The Whitney Biennial opened its doors at New York’s Whitney Museum of American Art last month, but if you took a close look at the list of participating artists, you might have noticed that there was nothing on view from Brooklyn-based artist Susan Cianciolo. That’s because her contribution, Run Restaurant Untitled, is a limited-engagement three-day event that operates out of the museum’s Untitled restaurant. From April 18–20, the artist is taking over the lobby venue and offering guests a meal of her own.
“When we were first talking with Susan about dream projects, she mentioned something about doing a reprisal of Run Restaurant,” Mia Locks, who curated the biennial with Christopher Lew, told artnet News at a preview luncheon on April 18.
Originally staged just down the block from the Whitney’s new Meatpacking District home at Alleged Gallery for one month in 2001, Run Restaurant was an interactive art project that took the form of a communal space. Cianciolo, a fashion designer-turned-artist who began learning to cook from infancy—her birthright as an Italian American, she told artnet News—oversaw every aspect of its creation, from creating uniforms for the waitstaff to building the kitchen to cooking the food.
But where the original Run Restaurant, named for her then-recently defunct fashion line, Run, featured a $10 prix-fixe vegetarian meal, its reincarnation is a far fancier affair. Tickets are $125 for the five-course meal, plus an optional $45 wine pairing (limited student tickets are available for $25).
Despite the higher prices, Cianciolo aimed to retain her vision of a communal space, where diners would break bread with strangers and make fast friends. Locks says that Untitled’s existing staff was game to turn themselves over to the art project; they all volunteered to wear the outfits and makeup designed by Cianciolo.
The artist initially developed the menu with Michael Anthony, who was until recently the restaurant’s executive chef. The final dishes were executed by Suzanne Capps, who took over the Untitled kitchen. After a preview, we can report that the food does not disappoint.
An appetizer of raw and roasted vegetables with accents like toasted ground nigella seeds was inspired by Cianciolo’s desire to create a Japanese and Indian-inspired dish.
The third course, a seafood onion chowder with a silky potato leek puree, was inspired by a current dish on the menu. The fourth course, the diner’s choice of duck confit or arctic char over crispy puffed rice and a heart grain risotto, grew out of Cianciolo’s desire to incorporate something ancient.
Guests should make sure to take home a copy of the menus, handmade collages created by a team at Cianciolo’s gallery, Bridget Donahue. Each has been scanned, printed, and decorated with pressed leaves and flowers.
The artist has also added her special touch to the restaurant decor, crafting collaged table cloths from wallpaper, newspaper grocery store circulars, and wrapping paper. “Every single piece of fabric has a very emotional and personal connection,” said Cianciolo, pointing to a tunic given to her by a musician friend who will play during one of the dinner seatings.
An East Asian current runs through the space and the meal, as reflected by the handmade prayer flags hanging in the windows. An array of crafted knickknacks sit atop the tables, with forsythia and other wild flowers foraged upstate arranged in colorful ceramics.
Cianciolo says she never consciously set out to infuse food with art. “That’s my life,” she said. “That’s the way I grew up.”
Susan Cianciolo’s Run Restaurant Untitled will take place at Untitled at the Whitney Museum of American Art, 99 Gansevoort Street, April 18–20, 2017.
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