Restaurants Exhibiting Art

By Shira Wolfe

“Anybody who will eat that kind of food for those kind of prices will never look at a painting of mine.” – Mark Rothko

In 1958, abstract expressionist artist Mark Rothko was commissioned to paint a series of large paintings, known as the Seagram Murals, for the Four Seasons restaurant in the Seagram Building in New York. However, as he came closer to finishing the series, he started having more and more second thoughts about hanging his art in a restaurant for New York’s high society. After he dined at the Four Seasons himself with his wife, he became disgusted by the luxury and decadence of the place. He swiftly withdrew from the agreement and took back his paintings, saying: “Anybody who will eat that kind of food for those kind of prices will never look at a painting at mine.”

Despite this loss, the now permanently closed Four Seasons Restaurant showcased an impressive art collection throughout its lifetime. Major pieces included Jackson Pollock’s Blue Poles, four Ronnie Landfield paintings, a specially commissioned permanent mural by James Rosenquist, and a sculpture by Richard Lippord in The Front Bar. But perhaps the most impressive piece to have hung in the Four Seasons was Picasso’s large curtain, which he designed for the Ballets Russes ballet Le Tricorne (1919).

Pairing art with restaurants remains popular to this day, and we are seeing an influx of restaurants commissioning art, as well as artist-run restaurants, seamlessly blending visual and culinary arts – albeit with more amicable relations between the artists and the restaurants! Here are some of the most noted and notable restaurants exhibiting art worldwide.

Pharmacy, London

Pharmacy 2 (London)
Pharmacy 2 is Damien Hirst’s restaurant, launched in collaboration with Mark Hix. Pharmacy 2 is located in Hirst’s Newport Street Gallery, which Hirst opened to share his extensive art collection with the public. At Pharmacy 2, visitors can enjoy a weekly changing menu by Mark Hix while temporarily bathing in Hirst’s world. The décor, that of an in-your-face, colourful pharmacy, is undeniably influenced by Hirst’s artistic aesthetic, and works from some of his most iconic series are hanging in the restaurant, such as the ‘Medicine Cabinets’ and butterfly ‘Kaleidoscope’ paintings. This is not the first collaboration between Hirst and Hix: in 2012, Hix commissioned a sculpture by Hirst for his chicken and steakhouse Tramshed. Hirst’s artwork ‘Cock and Bull’, a bull with a cock on his back in formaldehyde, was inspired by Tramshed’s menu.

Sketch Gallery, London

Sketch Gallery (London)
Sketch is the realisation of a dream by restaurateur Mourad Mazouz and French master chef Pierre Gagnaire, to create a space in London where food, art, and music come together. The wish was to have an artist-conceived restaurant. With this in mind, Turner prize winning artist Martin Creed was commissioned by sketch in 2012, and followed by celebrated British artist David Shrigley. Both artists created a huge body of work to line the restaurant’s walls, and also created an environment that is simultaneously an exhibition, artwork, restaurant, and events space. Aside from these artist-run experiments, sketch has hosted over 50 exhibitions in its gallery space in the past decade, with exhibitions by artists such as Carsten Nicolai, John Baldessari, Jonas Mekas, and Sylvie Fleury.

Pierre Gagnaire, Paris

Pierre Gagnaire (Paris)
Back in Paris, Pierre Gagnaire’s restaurant by the same name on the rue Balzac often works together with Galerie Lelong, one of Gagnaire’s favourite Paris galleries. Pierre Gagnaire, a contemporary art lover, has shown works by the likes of Richard Serra, David Nash, Alechinsky, and Antoni Tapies in his restaurant. The Michelin-star chef has said he needs to be surrounded by beauty in his restaurant.

Zagreus Projekt, Berlin

Zagreus Projekt (Berlin)
Berlin’s Zagreus Project functions as both a gastronomic space and a gallery. The owner is Ulrich Krauss, who is the chef, gallery owner, and curator of the space. Krauss organises exhibitions related to food or gastronomic concepts, inviting different artists every two months to create an artistic concept for the space. The menu is then, in turn, influenced by the artistic concepts and interacts with the art in the space. The idea is that the moment guests enter the space, they become actors, not just spectators, in the space, as such contributing to the creation of the work of art. An example is a video installation by Philipp Geist, projecting underwater scenes on a wall, while Krauss served a meal made with ingredients from different bodies of water.

Bibo, Hongkong

Bibo (Hong Kong)
Hong Kong’s Bibo aims to create a perfect fusion between art on the walls and art on your plate. The restaurant evokes an art deco interior from the ‘30s, (the history especially invented for Bibo is that the restaurant is housed in an abandoned tramway company from the 1930s) yet it is boldly decorated with today’s most cutting-edge and famous contemporary and street-art. At Bibo, guests enjoy upscale French cuisine while surrounded by some of the giants of the art world today: Banksy, Damien Hirst, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Daniel Arsham, Jeff Koons, Takashi Murakami, Yayoi Kusama, JR, and Aya Takano, to name but a few.

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