The Wick - Christina Makris (Billie Scheepers) The Wick - Christina Makris (Billie Scheepers)
Monday Muse

Interview Author Christina Makris

Interview
Christina Makris
Photography
Billie Scheepers
09 January 2022
Interview
Christina Makris
Photography
Billie Scheepers
09 January 2022
In search of inspiration for her new book, Aesthetic Dining: The Art Restaurant Around the World, Christina Makris travelled to six continents, visited more than 100 cities, and sat at countless tables. She also enlisted 20 high-profile artists including Tracey Emin, Ai Weiwei and Damien Hirst to present us with a new way to appreciate food and a captivating study of the spaces in which great food and art combine.

Following a career in academia, earning a doctorate in philosophy from Sussex University, Makris became involved in the arts as a collector, philanthropist and trustee, and with restaurants as an investor, consultant and sybarite. After noticing several restaurants displaying museum-worthy art, she began to explore the connection and meet the artists, restaurateurs and chefs in more than 20 of the world’s greatest art restaurants, from New York to Hong Kong and Cairo to London, to share the stories behind them. Here, she shares some of her favourite findings and the art and restaurants that excite her the most…

THE WICK:   Talk us through a typical Monday

Christina Makris:   If you love what you do for a living and have control over your time, weekdays and weekends are immaterial, and you keep schtum about workload. I don’t have typical days, but I do have typical habits. Every Monday begins with a daybreak run around Hyde Park – I stop for coffee on Seymour Place in Marylebone, then home to get ready. The week is always planned, so there is the first morning markets call of the week with colleagues of an investment fund I advise on. Monday lunchtimes are always a lunch meeting to see people I am working on my various projects with, be they from art or finance, as sharing ideas around the table is conducive to doing good business, or ‘hunger thinking’ as Ernest Hemingway called it. I’ve had a mixed career across different sectors, so am very comfortable working on different projects and in very different industries. Mondays can often be the quietest days in restaurants, so I tend to have an early dinner out to try a new place and catch up with a different friend every week tête-à-tête.

TW:   As a self-described ‘restaurant philosopher’, where does your love of food and restaurants come from?

CM:   I am Greek, so we are overfed from the day we are born. Some of my earliest childhood memories are in restaurants, where we’d be taken several times a week, and always dressed up, so these places were always instilled with a sense of occasion and reverence, like a theatre or temple. If you think about it, those metaphors are how we experience restaurants anyway – there is a backstage bit (the kitchen) and the frontstage bit (the dining floor), where all the excitement unfolds for the delectation of the audience. We automatically play our roles in this drama when we go to restaurants without even knowing it; gossip, conversation, people watching, savouring the food, it’s all part of the performance.

I believe restaurants are important cultural creations. The best ones are creative endeavours, even a work of art in themselves, and certainly a cri de coeur of the chef who must share their passion with diners. Dining in a good restaurant is the second most pleasurable activity we can do. The restaurateur Ivor Braka says, ‘a restaurant should be somewhere you take someone you want to sleep with!’ and Peter Langan called himself ‘a culinary pimp’. I agree with these sentiments in terms of a good restaurant being somewhere you go to indulge the senses, to experience desire and satiation. Add in the right wine, the right conversation, and the pleasures of the table are yours for the taking.

TW:   How do you define an ‘art restaurant’, and how did you select the restaurants that are featured in your book?

CM:   A book on art collections in restaurants had never been written before. Art in the dining environment, and all the theoretical discussions and aesthetic topics around it, raises some great questions on how we appreciate food and appreciate art, so I decided to ‘write it out’ and explore it.

An art restaurant is a place you visit to experience taste in two ways: literally and metaphorically. Taste the tongue and taste through the eyes, if you like. These restaurants in the book have different types of art in them – from chefs who collect art, restaurateurs who promote the arts, and artists who make works for restaurants. It’s not exactly just getting in the interior decorator to refurbish the place. The best restaurant art collections have grown organically. They are testaments of friendships between artists and chefs, they are another way chefs share their taste, and in some cases, happy accidents when artists just start coming to the place and bring other artists with them, like Lucio’s in Sydney or La Colombe d’Or in Provence before that. I identify a tradition that’s actually over 100 years old.

There is a strong affinity between chefs and artists – they can’t leave each other alone. It is possibly something to do with combining ingredients, provoking the senses and just good-natured sociability. Several artists, from Peter Blake to Michael Craig-Martin, Vik Muniz, Tracey Emin, Julian Schnabel and Damien Hirst among others, very kindly gave their thoughts for my book on where they eat, shared restaurant memories, and why they make works for restaurants, so it’s stuffed full of their anecdotes and stories, which helped me with my thinking on the topic.

TW:   If you had to pick one art restaurant that should be on everyone’s must-dine list, what would it be?

CM:   It is difficult to pick a favourite, because each one is unique and important in its own right. For instance, Dooky Chase’s in New Orleans is an incredible story. The young chef Leah Chase took over her in-laws’ family restaurant in the 1950s. She had an eye for art as well as a taste for traditional Creole comfort cuisine, so throughout the 50s and 60s she would let African American artists come to the restaurant and hang their works on the restaurant walls; Jim Crow and its immediate aftermath made it impossible for these artists to display in conventional galleries. She befriended many artists who turned out to be some of the most significant African American artists of the 20th Century: Jacob Lawrence, Elizabeth Catlett, Mel Andrews – all exchanged work for her food. Catlett was quite partial to Miss Leah’s fried shrimp, apparently. Chase also lent the restaurant to members of civil rights meetings in secret. She became a folk hero in the US; Tiana in Disney’s The Princess and the Frog is based on her, she fed the Bushes, she fed the Obamas (admonishing Barak for putting extra sauce on her gumbo). When I met her, she was 94 and still in her kitchen in her trademark pink apron giving me cooking and relationship tips (half of it I listened to). So Dooky Chase’s restaurant is an astonishing example of how restaurants have been important backdrops to culture and history.

“There is a strong affinity between chefs and artists – they can’t leave each other alone.”

TW:   How does your past career in academia and philosophy influence the way you think about art collecting?

CM:   I probably look at objects with a certain reverence and imbue them with certain meaning and powers. They are never simply decorative objects or trophies. We live with them, they live with us, they see and hear us every day. To add a piece to my collection, I usually want to be convinced of something more scholarly, or more cerebral, and sometimes even to have the artist (if they are living) sway me of their aesthetic position and intentions.

As I also like to collect Modernist works, I love the idea that it’s like metonymy where you collect the artwork, but it’s connected with the time and place of that artist, the other artists, poets, thinkers they associated with, the ideas they explored, the intellectual ethos of how they all created. You are connected to a piece of that intellectual movement. And you are custodian of a part of a certain intellectual history – so don’t screw it up.

TW:   What would be a dream addition to your art collection?

CM:   I am not high maintenance at all. Promise. I’ll take Parmigianino’s ‘Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror’, because I’d go round and round in circles looking at it and trying to figure it out (‘it is life englobed’, poet John Ashbery wrote). Or one of Soutine’s portraits of cooks or waiters from the 1920s, with their dapper-but-noble uniforms, rosy cheeked faces and cocked heads, ready to serve.

TW:   Who is your ultimate Monday Muse?

CM:   Phryne, an ancient Greek courtesan from the 4th Century BC, who modelled for Praxiteles and Apelles, among other achievements. She became so rich that after the Macedonians scorched Thebes in 479 BC, she paid to rebuild it, and the Thebans erected a plaque on the city walls with this inscription: ‘Alexander may have knocked it down, but Phryne the hetaerae raised it back up again’.

TW:   What are your art-focused resolutions for 2022? 

CM:   To visit Seoul later in the year for Frieze with lovely art friends, under the aegis of the wonderful Jiyoon Lee, who’s a powerhouse of curatorial activity. I also plan on visiting Accra where a marvellous friend, Nish McCree, is doing exciting things through her COWRIE Culture initiative, to make Ghana an art pilgrimage destination. After this period of enforced short haul, it’s definitely time to go far and away to new places next year.


Share story
Further Information
READ MORE
The Wick - Jasmina Cibic (Pete Moss)
Monday Muse

Interview Jarman Award winner Jasmina Cibic

Visual Arts
The Wick - Sue Webster, Photo by Robert Fairer
Monday Muse

Interview Artist Sue Webster

Visual Arts
The Wick - Interview Author Christina Makris
Monday Muse

Interview Trino Verkade, Sarabande Foundation founding trustee

Fashion
The Wick - Sadie Coles. © Sadie Coles, courtesy Sadie Coles HQ, London. Photo: Heiko Prigge
Monday Muse

Interview London gallerist Sadie Coles

Visual Arts
The Wick - Princess Alia Al-Senussi
Monday Muse

Interview Patron of the arts Princess Alia Al-Senussi

Visual Arts
The Wick - Cindy Chao
Monday Muse

Interview Jewellery designer Cindy Chao

Fashion