This month sees the art and restaurant worlds merge ever closer together. As the Frieze Art Fair opens in London, numerous chefs are planning temporary outposts within its parameters. Melanie Arnold and Margot Henderson from Rochelle Canteen will run the VIP side of things, alongside brigades from Mark Hix, Caravan, Pitt Cue, Gail’s Bakery and Moshi Moshi. Those at Frieze Masters will be able to choose from the Italian cooking of Giorgio Locatelli or Japanese food from the chefs at Umu.
Gallery owners and collectors have been busy arranging dinners at Brunswick House, Quo Vadis and Scott’s and, as a result, this particular week is one of the busiest for many London restaurateurs.
This association is, of course, not new. Just look at Ballymaloe House, near Cork in Ireland, or Gramercy Tavern in New York, where art covers the walls and the dining spaces are enchanting.
Today, the seven dining rooms at Ballymaloe House are replete with works by the best contemporary Irish artists thanks to the astute buying policy of its founder, the late Ivan Allen. He bought a series of paintings by Jack Butler Yeats, the great poet’s younger brother, and sold them once the insurance became too high. The proceeds were invested in younger artists.
When Danny Meyer opened Gramercy Tavern as a restaurant in 1994 he started with no such assets but with one very useful artistic connection – his first restaurant, Union Square Café, was next door to the studio of artist Robert Kushner, who soon became a regular and a friend.
The result is “Cornucopia”, a large mural created by Kushner featuring fruit, vegetables and leaves that wraps around the entrance to Gramercy Tavern from the bar. Alongside other works by Stephen Hannock and Andrew Millner, this association, Meyer explained, marked the point when gallery owners began to appreciate the commercial benefits that hanging their artists’ works in busy restaurants can engender.
But it is the food forays of the late Richard Hamilton, famous for his pop art and collages, which perhaps best reveal the subtle connections between contemporary art and restaurants.
The later part of Hamilton’s restaurant life came in 2006 when he sent elBulli’s Ferran Adrià a bottle of Fever Tree tonic he had discovered at his local supermarket. Adrià was so impressed that he incorporated the drink into a dish entitled sopa de tonica.
The earlier phase dates back to the late 1980s when Hamilton was a regular customer at table 16 at Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons in Oxfordshire, where he was served by David Moore, a young waiter from Northern Ireland. Moore was planning to open his own restaurant and in 1991 Hamilton wrote a cheque for £20,000 towards the £189,000 then required to open Pied à Terre in Charlotte Street. Four of his paintings still hang there.
Over subsequent good bottles of wine with Hamilton, Moore became so interested in contemporary art that, three years ago, he established his own artist-in-residence programme. A selected artist would spend time watching the staff at work and then design a series of pieces that would hang on the walls and transform the dining room into a gallery.
Moore contributes £10,000 to make this possible and has only once exercised his right of veto, when a series of fish skins held together on metal plates emanated a smell that was considered just too unpalatable for his diners. Among the restaurant’s collection from its first two artists, Elpida Hadzi-Vasileva and Anna M R Freeman, is a piece called “Quail Army”, a montage of 200 quail carcasses.
This Tuesday work by the artist Tim Head will be unveiled at Pied à Terre; last week I was given a sneak preview. In Moore’s opinion, it is the strongest intervention yet in the restaurant’s “modus operandi”.
Head has designed new bread plates incorporating six different colours, new cover plates and a series of nine different flower prints that pay homage to Hamilton.
One wall of the dining room at Pied à Terre will be covered in a series of white fabric discs, while discs half the size will be placed on the mirrored wall opposite to create an “eclipse effect”. The result is contemporary art, stylish food and great wine – all in one room.
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Pied à Terre
34 Charlotte Street, London W1T 2NH, 020 7636 1178, www.pied-a-terre.co.uk