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Food Restaurant 1971

by Gordon Matta-Clark, 1943-1978

The Soho of the 1960s and 1970s was not the Soho we know today: it was gritty and rough and not a desirable place to live. With its seedy, industrial lofts with shared—or often nonexistent—facilities, the low rents, and “anything goes” attitude, it became a haven for artists. However, even as people moved into the area it was still dirty and dangerous. There weren’t many places to get the basics, including food, as it was an industrial district lacking restaurants.

Gordon Matta-Clark and Carol Gooden changed that when they opened Food in 1971. It was a community restaurant staffed by artists, with rotating menus and innovative ideas. It offered a seasonal menu, open kitchen, guest chefs, and even sushi—long before any of those ideas became trendy.

Matta-Clark came from a family of artists. He studied architecture at Cornell, and his work often consisted of “building cuts” where he would remove sections from the structures of abandoned buildings, carving holes in the floor or removing walls. His environment was his canvas, so as a cook his meals became art pieces. He was known for some rather funky creations, such as the whole fish he gelled in black aspic and then jiggled for diners, making it appear as though the fish was swimming. He once hosted a bone dinner that consisted of frog legs, oxtail, and other bony items. At the end of the evening, the leftover bones were washed and strung on necklaces for guests to wear as a souvenir.

Food was started more as a community hub than as a restaurant venture. It earned a good review by Milton Glaser in New York Magazine and became popular even outside of the art community, but the owners gave it up it after only three years in business. Matta-Clark died only a few years later in 1978 at 35 years old from pancreatic cancer, two years after his twin brother committed suicide.

It’s fair to say that Matta-Clark and Girouard’s idea was ahead of its time. Some of the tenets that made Food so unique are currently in the culinary spotlight: we see food as art in our social media and high-end restaurants, we see experimentation and exchange of ideas in culinary startups and incubators, and we see community restaurants that provide jobs to the underprivileged. Today the Food building houses a clothing store with no trace of the old restaurant that was once a hub to the artistic community.


1971 Food Restaurant opens
1974 Carol Gooden and Matta-Clark sell the restaurant

Reference Links

tidbit Gordon-Matta Clark
internal Gordon Matta-Clark - Wiki
article NY Times: When Meals Played the Muse
internal 1972 New York Magazine Review
internal Soho Memory Project: Food, Glorious Food
sight The Banquet Years
internal Food Documentary
internal GoogleDoc

Talking Points

  • started in 1971 by group of artists including Gordon Matta-Clark & Carol Gooden
  • important cornerstone of the soho artist community
  • restaurant & hub as there was nothing around
  • many ideas that seem trivial today but were groundbreaking
  • open plan kitchen where you could watch food being prepared, every chair was different, affordable home style meals, seasonal veggies, guest chefs
  • Gordon used to cook a meat dish and ask diners to clean off the bone as he would string it up and return it as a necklace
  • think about: the importance of a community, a safe haven to meet, exchange and experiment.

Gordon Matta-Clark

  • interested in space, large scale installations, deconstruction
  • cut shapes, holes in condemned buildings, take apart buildings
  • again probably not possible anywhere else other than nyc in that time
  • Wikipedia
  • think about: taking found art to another level, having the viewer reconsider their living environment, the spaces they carve out in their homes, and the hidden spaces that a city is filled with

Pop Rocks

  • invented in 1975
  • in an effort to offer you a treat of experimental flavour and to take you back to that time