Monday, May 07, 2007

Untitled Thai Food

A Saturday afternoon of shuffling through the outdoor mall of art galleries that is Chelsea, NYC, can leave you hungry for many things. If you happen to be on 19th Street and your craving is Thai food, then you’re in luck.

Artist Rirkrit Tiravanija recreates his 1992 piece, Untitled 1992 (Free), which is a temporary plywood environment where he serves up a daily Thai meal within. The experience is free and open to the public with modest seating, paper bowls and plastic utensils.

It would be a bit intimidating or confusing to stumble upon this scene if you are not in the know – it looks like an odd and very minimal dining facility with no signage to clue you in. To me, this reads “private,” but, in fact, anyone is welcome.

We arrive to a yummy and fragrant green curry with eggplant, green beans, cauliflower, broccoli, onions and bamboo shoots. Patrons and passersby can serve themselves a helping of steamed jasmine rice from the giant rice cooker and then man the ladel in the large vat of curry.

The set-up is about as “provisional” and barebones as it gets. My fellow art crawlers (Paul, Brett, Teddy,) and I serve ourselves and plop down on folding stools to eat our curry at the folding table. Naturally, everybody’s glancing askance, checking each other out for people’s reactions to being here and to gauge where they themselves reside on the socially awkward-to-cool barometer. (Or, at least I did.)

We learn the original piece was staged in 1992 at 303 Gallery in Soho. The exhibit’s press release explains further:

“…taking his historical cues not only from distinctly non-Western Thai traditions, but also from Alan Kaprow, Michael Asher, and Gordon Matta-Clark, Tiravanija’s seminal exhibition helped create a pivotal moment of rupture from the wealth and abundance of the previous decade…[Today’s kitchen includes] the same stools, tables, cookers, pots, pans, and refrigerator, along with the same 15-year old food waste.”

There are 3-4 people at work, using bulk-size cans of coconut milk, rice and very fresh-looking produce. The makeshift cooks are preparing a Thai beef curry for the gallery staff to eat later in the day. All the while a thirty-something guy documents the goings-on with a 16 mm film camera.

I’ve never been part of a performance art piece that tastes so good – the velvety curry bites at medium heat, but does not overpower, giving nuance to each vegetable.

The only thing missing is a Singha beer to wash it all down. Especially as there’s 6 more blocks of great tasting art (though far less filling) including: Yutaka Sone at David Zwirner, Paul Thek at Alexander and Bonin, Andreas Gursky at Matthew Marks, Joana Hadjithomas and Khalil Joreige at CRG, Eva Rothschild at 303 Gallery, Sterling Ruby at Metro Pictures, Dana Schutz at Zach Feuer Gallery, Tim Hawkinson at Pace Wildenstein, Glenn Brown at Gagosian, Jonathan Lasker at Cheim & Reid, assume vivid astro focus at John Connelly Presents, and Sterling Ruby at Foxy Productions.

Gordon Matta-Clark and Rikrit Tiravanija
David Zwirner
March 21 through May 19, 2007, open Tuesday - Saturday
519 West 19th St. NYC

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