Adrià‘s documenta art: Cooking at El Bulli?!?

FerranAdria.jpgLast week, the Guardian’s Jonathan Jones went a smidgen ballistic about the notion that Spanish chef Ferran Adrià – founder of Barcelona’s El Bulli and frequently ranked as the globe’s top chef – was being put forward among Documenta’s artists. In his delightfully apoplectic post Food can be artistic – but it can never be art, Jones wrote:

They are not true artists because even the most modern food cannot disgust people beyond a certain point, or El Bulli would have no customers…. In reality, even a genius among chefs is obliged to please the customer (and cook to order), which means no chef can claim the freedom of mind that artists won in the Renaissance. Caravaggio could paint fruit that looked good enough to eat but he also painted tortures to turn your stomach; that’s art. Until people go to a restaurant to think about death, cooking won’t be art.

Well, Mr. Jones will be delighted to hear that Adrià has apparently bailed on Documenta. [UPDATE: Documenta’s debating this. See Comment #3 below] According to the issue of Berlin-based Monopol that landed in subscriber mailboxes today, Adrià is staying put in Barcelona during Documenta. Here’s a rough translation of the Monopol item:

Only at El Bulli can he provide his gastronomic experience, explains the Documenta 12 team, but one can nevertheless travel there…. Too bad El Bulli regrets to say that the master is not capable of receiving Documenta customers, because all reservations through the end of 2007 have been booked.

I see this as yet another omen that things have gone a little haywire in Kassel. After all, Ferran Adrià was one of the two artists named first by Roger M. Buergel. (The other was Artur Zmijewski. Get it: “Artists from A to Z”?) Granted, things go wrong all the time with big shows. Still nailing down Ferran Adrià‘s participation should have been handled ages ago.

But I’m also struck with the ferocity with which the German press has gone after Buergel. The sharks smell blood and they’re circling in the water. I’m sure the Documenta team feels unjustly assailed, but their bizarre media-handling tactics have hardly earned them any favor; one reporter told me he was assailed by the press team for trying to find out which artists were selected. But that’s a journalist’s job, despite Buergel’s decision to only release the list at the opening.

As amusing as this competition may be to observe, I feel bad for the artists. So here’s free advice for future directors trying the same no-promotion trick: Give the media even a dish (even a weak dish) on a platter and they’ll usually take it without looking too hard for something else. But bar them from the restaurant and they’ll batter down the door, scour the kitchen and steal away with the staff.

3 thoughts on “Adrià‘s documenta art: Cooking at El Bulli?!?

  1. I have enjoyed seeing the furor over the inclusion of Ferran Adrià, though I think that it is a shame if the outcome is that he is somehow diminished and disrespected. At the moment it appears that he has been used in a way to make a point outside of what his work is. If so, I think it is our loss. But anyone who knows what he does couldn’t possibly have thought that he would be there serving up food. I also appreciate the humor in announcing the artist with the letter a and the letter z, but to not follow up with anything has really hurt the possibility that Adrià could participate on any kind of level playing ground unless there is just something outside of the picture.

    Maybe these moves are intended to challenge to expectations of the roles of artists, curators and exhibitions such as Documenta. I like this approach somehow, and it is not something that can be systematized, it will work this time (or it won’t) and that is that. I feel much worse for Adrià than I do for artists who have yet to have their names mentioned. The artwork should be grabbing the attention, not the hype around the show.

    We see a lot of furor over these kinds of decisions but what we do not have is the lead-up conjectures by people who know nothing about it that the show is ‘good’ or ‘bad’ and worth the trip or not. Personally, I am paying more attention to the individual artists that I have heard of as being in the show, and that is primarily because I hear about them in bits and pieces, and therefore have time to look them up in advance. Give me a list and I just apply the standard automatic measurements to it that I am supposed to somehow: known, unknown, media, age, gender, nationality etc. The primary audience for the show, after all, is not the small percentage of us who are standing there dying to see the list.

    The challenge of a chef is not so different from an artist as I see it – a balancing of pleasing yourself against the demands of pleasing those that make it possible for you to do so, and to do it in a way that makes it more than an ordinary exchange. I’ve seen plenty of food that has turned my stomach inside out. Maybe we should have a little more respect for what we put through our systems, food or art, whatever you want to call it, it is still something that is meaningless until it goes through human processes in one way or another.

    Didn’t I hear somewhere that Roger Buergel trained as an artist? Let’s not call it a disaster until we see what it is, in any case, maybe a disaster is exactly what we need in the face of 71 mio. dollar paintings. Then all of the market forces and lists of names can come into play after we have had our fun. Anarchy!

  2. Adrià‘s participation has become a running debate, apparently. From Jen Allen’s Artforum International News Digest:

    “Will star chef Ferran Adrià show up at Documenta 12 or not? According to a report in this months issue of the German art review Monopol, Adrià would be spending “the hundred-day museum” cooking at his famed restaurant, El Bulli, located outside Barcelona. Speaking to Der Standard, Documenta 12 artistic director Roger M. Buergel denied the Monopol article and called the report “nonsense.” While Buergel insisted that Adrià is part of the artist list, the director would not confirm whether or not the artist-chef would be present at the June 12 opening.”

    Creating more confusion, Fokus magazine says he’s not coming, but Hessische/Niedersächsische Allgemeine, the Kassel local paper, says he is. Can we stand the suspense, kids?

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