(Text to exhibition A56 from 26.6. until 4.9.04)

It was in Milan1 that Daniel Abadie, the Director of the Galerie Nationale du Jeu de Paume in Paris, first talked about doing an exhibition with me.

I had just come out of hospital after having had a good part of my intestine removed, and so I still felt very weak, so weak in fact that Daniel Abadie’s suggestion of mounting an exhibition at the Jeu de Paume fell on deaf ears. Naturally, the venue itself appealed to me. This former indoor court at the end of the Tuileries, where the more energetic members of the French royalty and aristocracy used to tire themselves out playing the forerunner of what we today call tennis, was one of the Meccas of my youth. This is where the Impressionists, being too modern and too controversial to be shown at the Louvre, were originally exhibited for many years. The Louvre was reserved, so to speak, for the time-ennobled works of dead artists.

On the opposite side of the Tuileries, in the Orangerie, one extraordinary exception had been made, for Monet was still alive at the time: on the order of the then prime minister Georges Clemençeau, also known as “The Tiger”, Monet’s long frieze of Nymphéas (Waterlilies) was exhibited there. This cycle, which Monet had worked on all his life, was my favourite, and I shall never forget the small pair of rimless, paint-spattered spectacles, likewise exhibited, next to an oversized palette and a photograph showing this short, stocky – not to say fat – man applying with superhuman effort one kilogramme of paint after another to this miraculous work, a work which, in the final analysis, proves that painting is only colour, light and sky, and sky mirrored in the water, in the mirror of our eyes.

So Daniel Abadie wanted to do an exhibition, but he did not say what kind of an exhibition. I quite naturally thought in terms of my retrospective at the Tinguely Museum (“Daniel Spoerri: Metteur en scène d’objets”), on which we were already working, but this did not seem to be what he had in mind, for as we were doing just one hour’s quick dash – as is always the case in the brief intervals between his travels – through this exhibition in Basle, in June 2001, weeks after its preview, he told me that this was not quite what he was looking for, and that he was thinking rather of repeating my first exhibition at the Galerie J of March 1963, when I transformed the gallery into the Restaurant de la Galerie J 2, – no, not actually repeating it, but rather staging the ultimate apotheosis of what had begun back in 1963. I told him that a retrospective of Eat Art had already been planned for Munich and that he could take it over later. It began on 19th October 2001, six months after the Basle exhibition. We had arranged to meet one another in Munich, but as usual Abadie missed his plane. He arrived much later from the airport by taxi, told the taxi driver to wait and got the curator, Elisabeth Hartung, to take him on a hurried tour of the exhibition. But this exhibition wasn’t what he was looking for either. Two months later, in December, he visited me in my sculpture garden in Seggiano, Italy. This last visit was now almost too late, as the exhibition had been planned for April/June 2002. Moreover, it was not until then that I learnt what he really wanted: like the exhibition in 1963, but on a much larger scale, the entire first floor of the Jeu de Paume was to be transformed into a restaurant. Only in the large ground floor room of the museum were my main Eat Art works and the preliminary stages in their making to be exhibited... – I just couldn’t help laughing, for the whole thing was ridiculous: all the tables at which people had dined in the evening had to be fixed and hung on the wall – each and every day! A totally crazy idea, absolutely impossible! He hadn’t the faintest idea what it meant to have to prepare vast quantities of crockery, cutlery, tablecloths, tabletops, glassware and table decorations. A whole team of helpers would be have to be taught the art of gluing the pieces in place, not to mention all the drilling, sanding and grinding that had to be done beforehand, in short a whole workshop would have to be fully equipped and manned by skilled and experienced craftspeople. And that was just for the fixing of the crockery – countless pieces of dirty, greasy, used crockery, please note – and nothing else. The banqueting concepts still had to be talked about. As many as 150 people were to spend one evening after another at the “Restaurant Spoerri au Jeu de Paume”. The largest catering company in Paris – Lenôtre – was to prepare the meals under my guidance and supervision.

This does not mean to say that I didn’t have any ideas for such banquets. On the contrary, I already had a good ten or twelve concepts at the ready. Ever since the 18th June 1968, when I opened the Restaurant Spoerri in Düsseldorf and the Eat Art Gallery above the restaurant two years later, I had on many occasions conceived and organized such grand evening functions, beginning with the “Art in Gateau Banquet” at the Henkels’ residence in Hösel, where my first short text launched the term “Eat Art”, a term that I had thought up a few months earlier during a sleepless night in New York (“Digestible Art”, 19 th April 2002, see list of all banquets at the end of this text).

And then there was “Ultima Cena” (see 22nd April 2002), which took place in Milan in October 1970 – a most sumptuous banquet marking the 10th anniversary of the Nouveaux Reálistes at the Ristorante Biffi in the Galleria Monumentale Vittorio Emanuele. Each of the N.R. artists attending this wonderful event, which was sponsored and realized by the firm of Motta, had his own table and was served his own works in edible form. Arman’s dish, for example, was an “Accumulation” of eels and shrimps conserved in aspic instead of polyester. For César we pressed “Compressions” from dozens of kilogrammes of chocolates in their coloured silver paper wrappings. Raymond Hains was served a pink nut cake measuring one and a half metres in diameter and decorated with a thousand tiny candles: the ten years of Nouveau Réalisme raised to the power of 1000 through the name of Milano (= mille anni); pink as a reference to Marcel Duchamp’s pseudonym Rrose Sélavy, and nut cake because Le Nocci, the organizer of this function and of the exhibition of the Nouveaux Réalistes in 1960, was in Milan.

I shall skip the others, but they all had their own tables, myself included. A poster of the menu was specially printed for the occasion and signed by all. Even Rotraut, the wife of Yves Klein, who had been dead eight years, signed it with an “X pour Yves”. The star of the Nouveaux Reálistes, Tinguely, penned his name under mine as his way of showing who had the say.

The banquet was named “Banchetto Funebre del Nuovo Realismo” after my predilection for things macabre, and “Ultima Cena” after Leonardo’s “Last Supper” in Milan. As it later turned out, this was in fact to be the last meeting of our group.

It was there in Milan that, together with Claude and François-Xavier Lalanne, I had already planned the “Cannibal Banquet” (see 24th April 2002), which was then realized – absolutely perfectly – two months later in Düsseldorf. My table at the Biffi in Milan was already a “foretaste” of my “Palindromic Banquet”, the concept of which I have gradually developed and/or alienated until it has now become one of my most sophisticated banquets, for it makes enormous demands on the cook and the confectioner (see 23rd April 2002). These brief descriptions refer to only four of the ten banquets subsequently realized at the Restaurant Spoerri au Jeu de Paume.

For the time being, however, Daniel Abadie was still at my place in Italy, and I was doing my utmost to persuade him to give up the idea. How do you think it is going to work? Absolutely impossible – fixing the mealtime leftovers of 150 people would take weeks if the results are to be permanent! I did it once – with the help of Pavel Schmidt – for the restaurant of the Swiss pavilion at Expo ’93 in Seville . The restaurant seated 150, and the tables and leftovers of just as many guests were hung on the walls afterwards. But that alone was an incredible feat – and you want to do it for ten evenings on a run?

All the same, we agreed that I should come to Paris and first take a look at everything. One half of me already wanted to do it, while the other half still had to be tempted, and the fear of not being able to cope with such a mammoth project was outvoted by the irresistible challenge – not least the logistical one – which it posed. In the end, everything seemed somehow to be possible, and so we finally grasped the nettle: Pavel Schmidt once again agreed to be my right-hand man and chief fixer. An apartment was rented for me in Paris and preparations were made weeks beforehand. We reduced the number of tabletop still lifes to five per evening. We ordered non-warping tabletops. With the help of my caster in Italy, Pietro Caporella, I made a quantity of bronze collages with which to decorate the tables. Tablecloths and other means of decoration were chosen for each of the planned evenings. We also bought “matching” crockery and cutlery – some of it silver, by the way – for approximately 30 persons for each of the banquets. All the tables for the still lifes were fabricated in duplicate in order that they could be swapped as quickly as possible during the meal. Ten to fifteen students from the Ecole des Beaux Arts were hired and given a crash course in the secrets of gluing and fixing. The decorated tables, complete with tablecloths but without crockery and cutlery, were first hung on the walls and then taken down when it was their turn to be dined at. After the meal, they were then processed well into the small hours so that they could be hung the next day as finished works. Thus it was that the museum gradually filled up with finished collages during the two weeks of the project.

The crockery for the other guests (150 at the most) was hired. A whole battery of high-performance dishwashers was installed in one of the upstairs rooms of the museum, permitting a team of helpers to start getting everything clean as early as 5 o’clock in the morning. One morning, one for the hosepipes supplying water from the Tuileries to the dishwashers either burst or became detached and the whole room was under water for a short time. In the days of the Manets, Monets, Renoirs and Cézannes, this would have been nothing short of a catastrophe.

We also had to find a new catering company in the very last minute, as Lenôtre, the caterer we had originally chosen, suddenly got cold feet about some of the menus, not least about the one for the cannibal banquet. Fearing for its reputation, the company quoted us colossal prices and hid behind insurmountable hygienic problems – gateaux should not be removed from cold storage longer than an hour prior to their consumption, chicken heads could not be used for decoration, and so on and so forth. The new caterers – Boutard & Enescot – took up the challenge with enormous enthusiasm and deserve every compliment I can pay them. Everyone knows that cooking – like playing a sonata – is a matter of interpretation. Every housewife cooks even the simplest of soups differently. And when it comes to a whole banquet, and a very complicated one at that, the result cannot but differ vastly from one to the next.

Apart from just a few mishaps, everything went off very well. Wolfram Siebeck, in his article in “Die Zeit”, was the only one to complain about our cuisine, but when doesn’t he complain? Unless, of course, he’s doing the cooking himself, but then he never does. He had obviously not grasped the fact that one can apply other criteria than those normally reserved for three-star cuisine, in which I for my part have never been particularly interested for the simple reason that questions as to how and what one eats, and especially whether one eats at all, indeed all questions concerning the survival of humanity have preoccupied me more than whether a Périgord foie gras, for example, should be fried in goose fat half a minute or a whole minute longer depending on its weight in order that it is still blood red or pink when it is cut open.3

However, there was one essential aspect of this mammoth project which my forenamesake Abadie failed to resolve. From the very outset there was much too little money at our disposal for us to realize the whole thing without any financial worries, and when my head was already in the noose and the wagon was already being shoved from under my feet, I had no alternative but to launch a desperate search for a solution. The last-minute reprieve came in the form of Galerie Henze & Ketterer, which undertook to pay the enormous costs of the undertaking – on certain conditions, naturally. I was damned grateful at the time, and I still am today. Indeed, it is not least to the generous intervention of this gallery that I owe both the success of the exhibition Restaurant Spoerri au Jeu de Paume and this catalogue.

Daniel Spoerri, May 2004

Translated by John Brogden, Dortmund


1 This was the occasion of the preview of my “Flea Market Genetic Chain” in the gallery of the Refettorio delle Stelline in Milan on 10th November 2000. This is a frieze-shaped work measuring 63 metres in length and comprising most of the objects I have collected at all the flea markets I’ve visited. It was the room, the refectory of a former monastery, in other words a very long room in relation to its width, which actually inspired me to stage this parade of lost, rejected and forgotten things that had once accompanied whole lifetimes or had been useful aids to craftsmen in the plying of their trades – a veritable cornucopia of inventions that we human beings are forever renewing, improving and casting aside. I was extremely proud of this long frieze of testimonies of human inventiveness, and not least because it also revealed human inadequacies, the signs of bad taste, heart-warming stupidity, sentimentality even. (This frieze has meanwhile grown to a full 100 metres: 40 parts, each 2.5 metres long.)

2 The invitation was worded: “La clôture du Restaurant de la Galerie J sera le jour du vernissage des tables pièges”

3 What is Eat Art? This is a question I have often been asked.
To begin with, I can only give the following answer: Please do not confuse it with three-star cuisine. That certainly isn’t what Eat Art is about. If three-star cuisine used to be the Rolls Royce of culinary art, I would say that a Ferrari would be a more apt comparison today, that’s if we still wish to use the world of the automobile as our source of analogy. Going by this analogy, Eat Art would not even be a Volkswagen. In fact, it wouldn’t be a car at all, but rather a comparative table of all makes and models, and one which would even invite the question whether cars are the ideal means of transport anyway. Any attempt at answering this question will not necessarily arrive at such possible alternatives as “Go on foot” or “Get on your bike” but rather come to nothing, leaving the question completely open, the question itself being the answer, so to speak. This means, in gastronomical terms, that neither three-star gourmets and cooks nor seed pickers, vegetarians and vegans are the non plus ultra. Perhaps Eat Art just asks questions and is therefore infinitely curious, eager for everything that is new, interested in everything that is edible or seemingly edible, even worms and insects, or swelling agents for that matter, those culinary placebos that give you that deceptive feeling of fullness. Eat Art is even interested in the dietary extremes of anorexia and bulimia. It is convinced that the human being – no longer fitting into the cosmic order of things – cannot but forever ask the wrong questions and give the wrong answers. Like Moishe, for example, who asks the butcher for “three slices of that fish” and points to a leg of ham. “But that’s not fish, Moishe,” says the butcher, “that’s pork.” – to which Moishe replies. “Did I ask you fish’s name?”

Daniel Spoerri 80th Birthday Retrospective

(Text to exhibition A90 from 29.05.2010 until 24.07.2010)

Born in Galati in Romania in 1930, Daniel Spoerri spent a childhood and youth marked by the full fury of the drama that swept across Europe after 1939. His father, a converted Jew and a Protestant missionary – actually a bookseller by trade – fell victim to a pogrom in Romania in 1941; his Swiss mother succeeded, in autumn 1942, in fleeing to Switzerland with her children.  The family surname of Feinstein was dropped in favour of his mother’s maiden name of Spoerri, for it was not until Europe’s ultimate liberation in 1945 that one could breathe freely again, a circumstance that was nevertheless to have dire consequences for two of his five brothers and sisters. The young Daniel Spoerri first sought equilibrium in the light-footed extreme of classical dance, where he learnt to recognize the kairos, that opportune, fruitful moment at which the body paints a picture for the viewer. He also became a stage director, an arranger of people and things. Both of these professional skills, which were to be of eminent importance for his later art, were practiced and perfected during the years between 1952 and 1959, first as a dancing student in Paris and then as the lead dancer at the Stadttheater in Berne and at the city’s many other small theatres, followed by a contract with the Landestheater in Darmstadt as an assistant stage director.

Daniel Spoerri "mutated" into a visual artist in a small hotel room in Paris in 1960, becoming the co-founder of "Nouveau RĂ©alisme" and henceforth leaving definite and enduring traces in almost all the countries of Central Europe as an man of great versatility – as an object and installation artist, as a cuisinier and restaurant owner, as an exhibition maker, as a maker of books, as a museum founder and garden architect.  Now living and working in Vienna, the artist Daniel Spoerri can look back not only upon 80 years of a most changeful life and a career of constantly intensive activity but also upon 50 years of "Nouveau RĂ©alisme", the most sustained expression of the "New Figuration" that supplanted the abstraction of the period after the Second World War.

According to the manifesto of "Nouveau RĂ©alisme" formulated by Pierre Restany in 1960, a work of art must come into being with as little intervention by the artist as possible.  Within his circle of fellow artists and friends – Yves Klein, François DufrĂŞne, Jean Tinguely, Arman, Martial Raysse, Niki de Saint Phalle, CĂ©sar and Christo – it was Spoerri who realized this maxim more radically than anyone else. He would declare a found object – a seller’s trestle table at a Parisian flea market, for example – to be a work of art simply by appending his signature to it. The necessary artistic alienation was obtained with the aid of a simple yet highly effective trick: the objects were fixed in place on the table and then the latter was raised from its horizontal position into a vertical position and hung on the wall.  The change thus obtained was not just a dramatic one, for it represented an actual change in reality – indeed, a stroke of artistic alienation par excellence. 

Spoerri’s entire life’s work is based on this experience and method. He would always let the "snare snap shut" at a certain moment. All his works are in fact "snare paintings" – "tableaux pièges" – no matter whether the snare snaps shut on fortuitously found objects or on the artist’s own playful composition of objects, no matter whether the objects were simply fixed in position and turned through an angle of ninety degrees or cast in bronze for posterity. Immediately the artist felt that the objects had found their "correct" position, that the kairos, the fruitful, opportune moment, the moment of peripety had come, he would let the snare snap shut. Soon Spoerri was arranging chance itself, arranging things like a stage director on a stage set and casting people to "play" with them – at the dinner table, for example. But that special moment, that moment when everything was just right, when all converging forces were in the balance, where any further hesitation would mean a loss, still had to be found anew with every new work the artist made, even when he was working on an assemblage all alone in his studio, for even there his work had to come to a sudden and definite standstill as soon as the optimum had been reached.

Born in Romania and raised both there and in Berne, Daniel Spoerri is of Swiss nationality, but he has lived and worked in many places in Europe, and for many years at a time: Paris, Symi (Aegean island), Düsseldorf, Cavigliano (Ticino), Toggwil (Lake Zürich), Berlin, Munich, Uebersdorf near Berne, in Paris again in 1989, in Arcidosso and Seggiano in Tuscany, and in Vienna since 2007, not to mention the shorter working stays in many other places and his numerous teaching posts and professorships. Spoerri set up spacious studios in all these places, opened his legendary "Eat-Art-Restaurant" in Düsseldorf, organized an extraordinary cycle of exhibitions with his "musées sentimentaux", staged gigantic theme banquets, wrote books on food, made artists’ books out of virtually all the catalogues of his countless exhibitions, founded a sculpture park in Tuscany, which he himself has been curating since 1997, and, in 2009, established the "Ausstellungshaus Spoerri" in Hadersdorf am Kamp near Vienna.

Although life has taught him to keep his distance, Daniel Spoerri is one thing above all else: a friend!  Art works, exhibitions and happenings realized in close collaboration with his friends run like a thread through his life and his oeuvre. With his sculpture park at the foot of Monte Amiata in Tuscany, Daniel Spoerri has erected a veritable monument to his artist friends – not only to his close friends among the "Nouveaux RĂ©alistes" of Paris but also to his Swiss friends, first and foremost Meret Oppenheim, Eva Aeppli, Bernhard LuginbĂĽhl, AndrĂ© Thomkins, Alfonso HĂĽppi, Dieter Roth, Karl Gerstner. Whenever possible, the artists themselves must contribute a work that has been specially made for the sculpture park or, failing that, such works must at least be in their memory. Old artist friends are also complemented in the sculpture park by the works of new, young artists.

In the village of Hadersdorf, between Vienna and Krems, Daniel Spoerri has found the ideal ambiance for his own museum – the "Kunststaulager" and "Ausstellungshaus Spoerri" – in the historical buildings around the large village square.  Spoerri is namely the kind of artist that can neither let go of his art nor leave the "other side of art", that is to say, its reception and interpretation, to others – and certainly not to chance, with which he is, as we know, all too familiar. This is not least the reason why he has curated almost all of his exhibitions himself and why the catalogues accompanying these exhibitions were designed by him – mostly as artists’ books – and also written and edited by him.  But Spoerri also exhibits the works of his friends in Hadersdorf, the currently exhibited artist being his particularly treasured friend Eva Aeppli.  And it goes without saying that in Hadersdorf there are not only a museum of his works and an exhibition hall for his friends but also a Spoerri restaurant ("Esslokal Spoerri"). The life and death of man and animal, and everything that belongs thereto, from life-preserving medicine to the most far-fetched curiosities, and, again and again, the driving force behind all existence: food – these are the central themes of Spoerri’s oeuvre in all their radicalness of change and confrontation, in all their nothingness yet everythingness.

Following four comprehensive exhibitions of the works of Daniel Spoerri, in which the respectively most recent fruits of his creativity were shown – the "Sevilla Tables" in 1993, the Bronzes in 1998, the reconstruction of "Chambre No. 13" in 2001 and the "Restaurant Spoerri au Jeu de Paume" in 2004 –, the Henze & Ketterer Gallery, Wichtrach/Berne, will now be celebrating the artist’s 80th birthday with an exhibition of a selection of approximately 70 works from the most diverse phases of the artist’s career and from widely varying groups of works.

Wolfgang Henze

Translated bei John Brogden, Dortmund

Galerie Henze & Ketterer
Kirchstrasse 26, CH 3114 Wichtrach
Tel. +41 (0)31 781 06 01
Galerie Henze & Ketterer & Triebold
Wettsteinstrasse 4, CH 4125 Riehen
Tel. +41 (0)61 641 77 77