What if an artist started a restaurant? Nowadays it is nothing special, nothing striking. We are familiar with the relational art of the nineties, the cooking events of Rirkrit Tiravanija and the food (healthy and sustainable) obsession and related initiatives of the latest years – whether in the artworld or outside. At the beginning of the 1970s American artist Gordon Matta-Clark (1943-1978) was years ahead of his time when he opened FOOD, a restaurant located in SoHo, New York, in 1971. Co-founded and operated by photographer and dancer Caroline Goodden, FOOD acted also as a social space where art events and performances were held. As a meeting ground and ongoing art project, the restaurant was a landmark in SoHo and the artists’ community of the 1970s, until its closure in 1974. The people behind the arts magazine Avalanche and the collaborative group Anarchitecture were regulars for example.
The restaurant was a very active and dynamic site. In 1972 only they served more than 40.000 customers, an average of 100 people a day. Its menu was international and quite innovative for the time with ceviche, rabbit stew with prunes, bouillabaisse, or canary pudding. Most meals were sold under their actual value or were even given out for free. The kitchen was designed by Matta-Clark himself and was visible from the dining area, giving the guests an inside look of the dynamics, energy, and activity that such a place produced. The creation of every meal seemed like a performance, as if ‘the whole event’ as the artist called it, were a ‘live piece’.
FOOD is also the name of a documentary (1972) by Matta-Clark, shot partly by photographer Robert Frank, recording the operation of the restaurant. It shows Goodden and Matta-Clark at the fish market in search of trout, the protracted opening procedures, coffee being brewed, fish being scaled, deliveries arriving, checks being signed, food being served. The latter only after the staff shared a joint. Every activity of this restaurant-cum-artwork was recorded by Frank.
Categorised both as an artwork and as a real active restaurant, FOOD was correctly described and characterised as a ‘community based business whose goal was to support and sustain the art community of downtown Manhattan’. More than that, it has influenced younger generations of artists and has resonated in many works of the last twenty years. A key piece in art history.