Artist Goes From Farm to Gallery: Peter Nadin’s “First Mark”

July 1, 2011 § 4 Comments

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An ancient method in artmaking found its way to the gallery walls of Gavin Brown’s enterprise in the West Village. Nearly opaque hardened liquid was splashed across the framed linen, just one of the works by artist Peter Nadin in his latest exhibition, “First Mark.” I moved closer to the hanging piece, noticing veins where the wax surface broke. Encaustic – a painting technique using hot beeswax mixed with colored pigment, I thought to myself.

The crisp clacks of high heels interrupted my silent meditation. I turned around. A hurried woman breezed by, giving me a wan smile, and disappeared behind the walls of the white cube. I had nearly forgotten I was alone and that there was someone I needed to see. I peered around the corner of the room at the troupe of assistants sitting in front of their Macs and chatting. They didn’t seem to notice.

“Is the artist in?” I asked the group, unsure of whom to ask.

“Oh, Peter?” a bright-eyed blonde answered.

“Yes, he told me he’d be here at 11,” I explained. A personal invitation by the artist. Eyes flickered toward me. Though it hardly was; it was more of just quick email correspondence, I thought sheepishly to myself. But, I had the group’s attention.

“Well, I don’t think he’s here yet, but let me get your name,” the girl said, looking closely at me through her round glasses. “You can just wait in the gallery, if you don’t mind.”

I didn’t. I wandered through the long chunks of wood carefully holding terra-cotta vessels, like large, looming figures with whimsical pottery for heads. They seemed inviting. As I walked toward the last room, a nauseatingly sweet smell filled my nose. Tree branches, paint-splattered pots and tiny wooden houses floated above a giant box of dark liquid with swirls of light brown bubbles – honey.

Honey, beeswax, chicken eggs and other farm fresh products make up the palette of artist Peter Nadin. “First Mark” is Nadin’s first U.S. show since 1992 when he renounced art and retreated to Old Field Farm, his 160-acre sprawl in the Catskills. Nadin’s foray into farming was simple – there was no fresh food nearby, so he decided to grow it himself. Some wild beehives, pastures for goats, chicken, pigs and ducks and a greenhouse later, Nadin has become a strong advocate for small-scale farming and he is using art to further his cause. Now, Nadin is back in the studio and the farm comes to the gallery.

I found Nadin making his rounds through his wooden, seemingly wooded works. Dressed in dark blue slacks and a simple white button-down, the international artist with a work at the Met and a Max Beckmann Award under his belt smiled once I introduced myself and said, “Let’s chat.”

“It’s just an ingredient,” Nadin says of his farm products, “it can be used to make art or a great meal.” There is no distinction between work at the farm and work in the studio, according to Nadin.

“It’s all from the same artistic impulse. It’s not a matter of categorization,” Nadin explained. “I’m not saying that because I’m an artist there is something great about the pig. The pig has to be a pig.”

“So, the pig isn’t some commodified object, but the thing you eat for dinner?” I asked.

“Yes!” Nadin exclaimed, his excited eyes exaggerated from his thick, tortoise glasses. “It’s the thing that you eat for dinner.”

Beyond the white-walled gallery, we sat inside a small kitchen at the same bench where I ate artist Rirkrit Tiravanija’s coconut chicken soup just a few months ago. Leftovers from Wednesday night’s opening were sprinkled throughout the room. There were stacks of his catalogue, a mock newspaper called “The Bugle,” which has articles about iconography, art, and agricultural, even a short submission by chef April Bloomfield who buys pigs from Old Field Farm. Large glass vials of herbs rested on metal tables, perhaps precursors to his pop-up shop in the gallery, Bootleg Buying Club. Nadin plans to sell honey, paté and other goods from his farm as well as dairy products from local farms and, once the exhibition ends, the store will move to Grove Street.

As for the art, Nadin has some ideas. Before leaving the gallery, I asked the artist if he would ever want to see his works in museums.

“If someone wants to buy them great,” Nadin said of his wooden sculptures, “but otherwise, I can take them back, mill them down and I’ll use that to build a farrowing house for the young pigs and a chicken coop. The honey…”

He paused, thinking about the three tons hauled into the gallery. “We’ll use that for feed for the goats and the pigs next winter.”

For Nadin, he’s happy letting the slab of wood be a focal point in his art or lumber for the farm. The same could be said of the artist himself – Nadin is content as the laboring farmer or famed artist. He considers his next big project to be castrating his pigs tomorrow.

“Come up to the farm some time!” Nadin called to me as I opened the door to exit. I smiled and replied, “Of course!” Now, I had a real invitation by the artist.

“First Mark” is on view at Gavin Brown’s enterprise in the West Village until July 30th.

Film: “Kings of Pastry”

June 15, 2011 § 3 Comments

Those California days slipped away so quickly. Driving along the 405 under the bright sun has turned into stuffy subway rides. Freshly-laundered clothes is now a luxury, which I can only indulge in doing a couple times a month as opposed to a couple times a week at home. Lounging around the house and cooking with my sister has become lounging around the apartment and cooking occasionally with my roommates and boyfriend. Perhaps, not everything has changed.

It has already been two weeks since I flew from suburban Valencia to New York City. Now, I’m back to a different kind of grind. The job hunt. Unemployed and looking, I feel as if every second not searching for a job on Mediabistro or preparing for an informational interview is time wasted (though I do know that’s not the case).  Still. Sometimes, I just need to get out of my head and relax, which is what I did a couple nights ago.

With a glass of Chardonnay sprinkled with sliced strawberries, I sat on the couch beside my roommate to watch D.A. Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus’ 2009 documentary, “Kings of Pastry.” The documentary opens with a picturesque landscape of the Jardin du Luxembourg and tantalizes the viewer with a seemingly nonchalant introduction. “In France…”  it starts off, but then reality settles in. “If you want to be a great chef, you want to wear the collar,” the text continues amidst footage of famed Lyon chef Paul Bocuse and French President Nicolas Sarkozy congratulating the elite few, their necks crowned in the coveted blue, white and red collar. “But, few win it.”

Jacquy Pfeiffer with his mentor, Sebastien Canonne, taken from phfilms.com

Jacquy Pfeiffer with his mentor, Sebastien Canonne, taken from phfilms.com

“Kings of Pastry” follows three of the 16 finalists as they prepare and compete in France’s prestigious, yet grueling pastry competition to win the title (and collar) of des Meilleurs Ouvriers de France (MOF), the Best Craftsmen in France. Chefs spend years preparing for this three-day exam, the Olympics of the pastry world (fittingly, they only take place every four years) and each has his own story. The young Philippe Rigollot cut his teeth at Maison Pic, the only three-star restaurant in France owned by a woman. Regis Lazardcame from Luxembourg for another shot after he broke his sugar sculpture at the last competition. Jacquy Pfeiffer founded the French Pastry School in Chicago and returns to his native France to bring home the collar.

Regis Lazard perfecting his work, taken from slantmagazine.com

Regis Lazard perfecting his work, taken from slantmagazine.com

Much of the film shows these aspiring MOFs hunched over piping sugary confections and carefully arranging delicate bijou sugar sculptures while MOF judges peer over and inspect their work. Throughout the MOF competition, talented chefs bow tall toques, sometimes in tears while others in exhaustion. Once the cakes are placed and the competition is over, chefs with their wives, parents and children wander through the sweets-laden gallery featuring their prized MOF entries and tribute to the craft of French pastry-making. Then, comes the emotional naming of the new MOFs by chef Philippe Urraca, the head of the MOF pastrycompetition.

However, “Kings of Pastry” is more than just cream puffs and crying men. NPR’s Ella Taylor remarked, “Kings of Pastry is about the craft, the teaching and learning, the collaborative work, the tedium, the heartbreak and emotional backbone it takes to make something lovely, even if that something is destined to disappear down a gullet in seconds — and even if the maker ends up a noble failure.” Rather, the film is about the art behind pastry, thus “Kings of Pastry” is an appreciation of that.

My roommate remarked that the whole process of MOF judging is much like viewing art where museum- and gallery-goers stand in front of a painting, inspect the details of the piece and mull over aloud about the inspiration, implications and success of the work. I’m most reminded of this art appreciation during one scene in “Kings of Pastry.” In the middle of the documentary, Pfeiffer’s MOF mentors arrange a late night timed test for him and, once finished, promptly taste the struggling chef’s éclairs. After cutting Pfeiffer’s éclair in half, they sit silently and slowly savor the cream-filled sweet. They not only evaluate the visual aesthetic with their eyes, like in art appreciation, but have that added dimension of taste. Perhaps that might be something artists will catch on to. “I have nothing to add,” one says after swallowing. Said like a true art critic.

 

In case you’re curious, “Kings of Pastry” will be aired next Tuesday, June 21st on PBS.

A Feast in Brooklyn: Q & A with Eric Demby of Smorgasburg

May 20, 2011 § 1 Comment

After a tumultuous week in the city – escorting extended family, having them meet my boyfriend’s parents and graduating from NYU – I’m back home in Valencia, California. No time for nostalgia or reality checks during this short vacation back to the nest. Instead, I headed straight to the farmers market in historic Newhall last night, excited to indulge in avocados and other West Coast treats.

Hot tamales, bottled honey and only a handful of seemingly random vendors greeted me and I walked away avocado-less, thinking of the markets that await me back in New York.

Smorgasburg, taken from brooklynflea.com

One such is Smorgasburg, Brooklyn Flea’s latest food market set to launch tomorrow. Nicknamed Smorg, the Williamsburg bazaar features around 100 food vendors from Bon Chovie, an anchovy dealer, to local farmers. Couched in suburbia, I caught up with Eric Demby, co-founder of Brooklyn Flea, to talk about Brooklyn Flea’s foray into food, the start of Smorg and the birth of Brooklyn’s food scene.

E: Why did you decide to have food vendors at Brooklyn Flea? A recent New York Times article about flea markets says they “encourage a food component as a way to attract new faces” and “provide an inexpensive and low-stakes testing ground for vendors to try out their wares and to perfect their recipes.” Was this your intention as well?

ED: Before the flea first started, I worked for the Brooklyn Borough president, Marty Markowitz, for four years. During that time, the Department of Health was becoming more aware of the Red Hook Food Vendors around the Red Hook Ball Fields and was forcing them to be regulated. While I worked under Marty, I dealt with Cesar Fuentes who became a spokesperson for all those vendors. By the time I stopped working there and was starting the flea in 2007, there was question of whether the vendors would continue to exist. So, I approached Cesar, thinking the flea would be a great satellite location for those vendors because the flea would be on private property instead of on city property. It took some convincing, but as word got out about the flea on food blogs and in the press, people started getting excited. Having food at the flea was something people wanted.

After the Red Hook Food Vendors, I started reaching out to others, like Salvatore Bklyn and Kumquat Cupcakery, which have become the foundation of the flea. The flea was their foray into retail and as more people got excited about the food, more quality vendors start applying and the flea started to evolve. The flea presented itself as a platform for them. Having a retail store is a nice dream, but the reality is pretty different. It’s a high capital investment for a small business with a specialized product, but with the flea, we help you market your business and we present you curious customers. Chefs starting side projects now think of the flea as the best place to launch their project.

E: Did you think it would be as popular as it is now?

ED: No, but very early on we saw how excited people were about the food. Food is like the art of the 80s. It’s the cool commodity. It’s having its little moment in New York City, which coincided with the flea’s existence.

E: How did you come up with the idea for Smorgasburg?

ED: When we decided to have a market in Williamsburg eight or nine months ago, the developer wanted to have a market there more days a week. So, we thought we could have another market on Saturdays. The food thing was the obvious choice – it has been staring at us in the face. We had so many vendors that we couldn’t fit in the flea. So, once we announced that we were going to do that, we realized it was probably going to be a good idea.

E: A lot of Brooklyn Flea vendors get their start with you guys, like Asiadog recently opened a brick-and-mortar location in the Lower East Side. In 2009, The New York Times called Brooklyn Flea a “culinary stage” that garners both local and national recognition. So, what does that make Smorgasburg?

ED: Smorgasburg is a deepening of this food moment in New York City where more and more people are making food their livelihood. But, there are only so many stores you can sell your food to. Smorgasubrg combines the ability to make money without a middle man, affords you an audience of 1,000 people every week and gives you the kind of people aren’t just going to eat your cupcake but are trying to stock their shelves at Dean & Deluca.

We want to offer our vendors more opportunities to sell to the public and having a greenmarket as our anchor tenant combines customers’ growing desire to buy products that are not just made locally, but are sourced locally or responsibly. The long term goal is to create a strong integration between the purveyors, the people producing packaged goods, and the farmers selling in the market. Say someone wants to create a lavender marshmallow. They can go to this lavender farmer at Smorg to create their product, so this farmer can go beyond just selling a bouquet of lavender each weekend.

E: Do you see Smorgasburg as the start of a new movement in food?

ED: I think markets like this already exist in places with more of a connection between food and the land. You have these giant food markets in the great cities of the world, like in Mexico City or Barcelona, where there’s no line between farmer and product. Rather, we’re reinventing something so it’s less of a farm down home thing, but a place where products are more nuanced, polished and ready for their close-up. Smorgasburg is very small, but it seems like a lot. I know personally how much work it is to do these things! It’s hard to say it’s going to catch on everywhere, but we’re trying reconnect where food comes from, who’s making it and why it’s special. Having that healthy, comfortable relationship with food positively impacts humans and, therefore, has some sort of positive impact on society.

E: In Glenn Collins’ rundown of  Smorgasburg, you call it “a one-stop culinary clearinghouse and cross-section for folks who are curious about the new Brooklyn.” And this past February, The New York Times restaurant critic Sam Sifton profiled Brooklyn as the travel destination of the moment in the 36 Hours series. Do you think Brooklyn has become a major food destination? How do you foresee Smorgasburg contributing to that?

ED: Yeah, definitely. So among all the people traveling to New York City, more and more are asking themselves, “I’m going to take a half or full day to go to Brooklyn. If I got to Brooklyn, where should I go?” Most people just know Brooklyn’s neighborhoods – Brooklyn Heights promenade and Williamsburg, which aren’t necessarily built-in destinations like in Manhattan where there is the Statue of Liberty and Times Square. So, there’s a cross section of people curious about Brooklyn. They see Brooklyn natives, thinking they dress a little different, they’re friendlier and they’re into food. They can shop there and know they’re getting something that’s special and unique. That’s what New York was until 10 or 15 years ago. You had this experience where you had a quirky interaction with owner of the store.  We work hard to share that authentic, urban experience at Smorgasburg where you don’t feel marketed by a big company but you’re in a place with people looking for the same thing.

Stop by Smorgasburg every Saturday, starting this weekend at the Williamsburg waterfront between North 6th and North 7th St., at the East River.

Film: “Jiro Dreams of Sushi”

April 23, 2011 § Leave a comment

In the dark of Theater 2 at AMC Lowes on Third Avenue and 11th Street, a noisy buzz lingered. Fumbling zippers, creaking chairs and low laughter filled the lazy Friday afternoon air. Some in the audience were playing hooky from work. Others were starting their weekend early. Either way, this Tribeca Film Festival screening was a cinematic escape from the daily grind and a moment of peace before the weekend. The dull clamor continued.

Then came the haunting melodies of Philip Glass and a voice asking in Japanese “What defines deliciousness?” The noise began to die. By the time the camera zoomed into a piece of gleaming, nearly translucent fish deftly molded onto an oval-shaped mound of sushi, the audience was in silent awe. Not so much of the sushi itself but the man who carefully crafted it and gently placed it on the black square plate before them – Tokyo’s famed Jiro Ono.

Still from "Jiro Dreams of Sushi," taken from eater.com

David Gelb’s latest documentary, “Jiro Dreams of Sushi,” follows the 85-year-old sushi master and the staff behind Sukiyabashi Jiro, his humble 10-seat restaurant with three Michelin stars. The restaurant has garnered this three-star rating for the past four years, yet the quiet, but tenacious chef shows no signs of letting up.

Throughout the documentary, Jiro rarely speaks. From overseeing his apprentices in Sukiyabashi Jiro’s tiny kitchen to making his morning commute, Jiro takes it all in a silent stride. Gelb gleans the story of this respected sushi master through interviews with those who know him best – his sons Yoshikazu and Takashi, fish and rice dealers, an old apprentice, now sushi master with three Michelin stars under his belt by the name of Mizutani and food critic Yamamoto. They all praise Jiro’s work ethic and passion for sushi, recalling his rise from being an orphaned nine year old working at restaurants and under harsh conditions just to survive to opening his own restaurant in post-WWII Japan to create sushi never before tasted, let alone imagined. They call him a “perfectionist.” Though there is no Japanese equivalent to the word, Jiro seems to embody the universal ideal. And upon hearing these things, Jiro simply blinks in response.

Outside of these doting admirers, the harshest critic is Jiro himself. When it comes to perfecting his art, Jiro perks up. At point, Jiro shares that he wishes he had the senses of taste and smell that renown French chef Joel Robuchon possesses. With those attributes, he explains, he could make even greater sushi. And, it is in these visions of perfected sushi that the rapt audience watched the stoic sushi master become undone.

“I would see ideas in dreams,” Jiro says to the camera in Japanese, “In dreams I would see grand visions of sushi.”

Catch more screenings of “Jiro Dreams of Sushi” slated for next week here or check out Jiro’s 2008 appearance on Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations.

Review: Maharlika

April 10, 2011 § Leave a comment

An email confirmation (and ensuing two-week wait) scored a reservation for two at the East Village’s newest Filipino pop-up restaurant, Maharlika.  However, a misplaced booking put my boyfriend and I at a small iron table outside, but no resentment here due to yesterday’s sunny, warm weather. We were the lucky ones. Straddled along the corner of 12th Street and 1st Ave, a gaggle of hopeful diners waited outside Resto Leon for a table at the popular brunch spot, where weekend mornings transform the French bistro into the latest pop-up darling, Maharlika.

“Can I just say ‘I told you so?’” a young Asian woman jokingly chided her boyfriend as the two waited outside. A phone call just four minutes earlier would have snagged them a coveted table, apparently. Smiling, she continued to remind him as he disappeared inside the restaurant.

Her resolve is justified. Since its opening in mid January, critics have been raving over Maharlika.

Nikki Goldstein from Serious Eats hailed the food as a conversation starter and showstopper, saying “the menu is filled with words likely unfamiliar to the average New Yorker, and the result is an exciting dining experience—not only for what many of us find a novelty, but for the quality of the cooking and the jovial atmosphere once you’re there. It’s hard to order without asking questions, and since the early crowd consists of both curious eaters and Filipinos looking for a taste of home, the latter become eager educators right along with the staff. The dynamic is genuinely convivial—proof that food really can bring people together.”

Just a few weeks ago, Time Out New York’s food critic Jay Cheshes called the new brunch spot an “earnest, endearing product [that] takes a stand for Filipino cooking in Manhattan.” He went on to affirm Maharlika’s continued good work in the New York food scene, saying of the team behind Maharlika, Nicole Ponseca, Enzo Lim and Miguel Trinidad, “they dream, in fact, of going full-time and permanent, if only they had the scratch and the venue, [but for now] Maharlika has performed well enough already to earn a stay of execution, prolonging its run at least through the summer.”

And, it’s Maharlika’s Filipino spin on the typical brunch dishes that has put it on the culinary map. The brunch menu switches out omelettes and French toast for pig ears and taro root leaves and, along with it, the restaurant supplies diners with information about noteworthy Filipino politicians Ferdinand Marcos and Imelda Marcos, best known as Marcos’ wife and footwear fanatic, as well a much-needed glossary of Filipino ingredients.

My boyfriend, adventurous when it comes to food, ordered the sizzling sisig with eggs, knowing full well what was in the dish.

Maharlika's Sizzling sisig with eggs

Grilled pig ear, snout and belly came crackling in a black, cast-iron pan topped with a raw egg. Mixed together with garlic, lemon and onions, the dish is eaten with a spoonful of garlic rice. The result is salty and textured – some bites are crunchy while others are soft, which make for a satisfying mouthful. The whereabouts of the pork weren’t so exotic; simply, the dish tasted as if it were made from the more typical parts of the pig. No stringy strands of pig ear in this dish. Calamansi sauce, which tastes like soy sauce with citrus, is optional to stir in, but adds more saltiness to the dish. Although, it ended up being a little too salty for my boyfriend’s taste.

Maharlika's eggs Imelda

I ordered the eggs Imelda, a Filipino version of Eggs Benedict. Two cloud-like poached eggs sat atop a dark green bed of laing, a traditional Filipino vegetable dish made of taro root leaves, coconut milk, shrimp paste and chilies. English muffins were replaced by pandesal, the bread of choice in the Philippines, and a calamansi-based hollandaise sauce drizzled from the whipped edges of the egg on top to the bottom of the pandesal. Flanking this Filipino-infused Eggs Benedict were a pair of grilled prawns, salad greens and crispy kamote fries, essentially home fries made from sweet potatoes and served with a red, jelly-like banana sauce. Altogether, the dish was delicious – savory and sweet in the right places.

The service was rushed to accommodate the constant flow of eager diners. At one point, Nicole Ponseca, Maharlika’s general manager, snuck outside to chat with another diner, perhaps a friend.

“It’s crazy today!” she exclaimed, “but, I’d rather run around like this than wonder where everyone is!”

With expectant diners ready to get their hands on traditional Filipino dishes and an expanded service (Maharlika serves prix-fixe dinners on Monday nights at Alias), it looks like Maharlika is here to stay.

★ ★

351 E. 12th St. (1st and 2nd Avenues), East Village; info@maharlikanyc.com, http://maharlikanyc.com/

ATMOSPHERE Warm and friendly – no rush here.

SOUND LEVEL Outside is quiet and serene, inside is a bit more boisterous.

RECOMMENDED DISHES Eggs Imelda with mimosa.

ALCOHOL Bar serves typical brunch drinks, like bloody Marys and mimosa, but with a Filipino inflection.

PRICE RANGE Brunch dishes range from $11-$14, drinks hover around $5.

HOURS Saturday to Sunday, 11am to 3pm.

The Silent Sitter: Food on view at “Food for Thought”

April 3, 2011 § Leave a comment

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Still life is dead. Sumptuous paintings of fruit, gleaming from strategic lighting, and textured, nearly tactile vegetables rarely populate the gallery scene these days. Rotten. Thrown out. Gone. Nature morte, as the French say, which translates literally into dead nature, self or temperment. There goes the celebrated painting subject of ChardinMonet and 17th– century Dutch masters.

So, it seems.

French history painter Paul Delaroche predicted a similar fate for the art of painting itself. “From now, painting is dead” – Delaroche is famously (well, infamously) remembered more for that pith, yet powerful phrase than his own art. However, to contextualize the quote, Delaroche was actually referring to the medium’s potential demise with the rise of photography.  Thankfully, this prediction never fleshed out. And, interestingly enough, it’s photography that brings nature morte to life in “Food for Thought: A Group Exhibition” at Robert Mann Gallery in Chelsea.

The small gallery has brought together 28 photographs of food from 24 artists, ranging from Surrealist Man Ray to nature lover Ansel Adams to contemporary photographers like Michiko Kon and Marco Ugolini. To the media-saturated foodie, this exhibition might just sound like an antiquated FoodPornDaily. However, there is more to “Food for Thought” than mere photographs of delicately plated dishes.

Whereas the popular trigger-happy foodie plates and photographs food simply for its sensory appeal, the artists in “Food for Thought” capture food as subject for further inspection. In portraiture terms, food isn’t simply lifeless, dime-a-dozen face but rather lively sitter looking beyond the canvas and asking the viewer to take a closer look. Here, food takes on a life of its own.

Paulette Tavormina wakes up the sleepy subject by toying with odd-shaped lemons, which resemble gaping alien-like mouths, and gives an anthropomorphic jolt to the citrus fruit. Irving Penn transforms brightly hued fruits into neat color blocks, thus converting nature’s bounty into commercial paint chips, albeit frozen, a la Yves Klein. In Robert Doisneau’s 1952 print, Picasso sprouts baguette fingers – one can almost hear the soft thuds of his doughy digits against the table.

In “Food for Thought,” artists find food in its natural environment – in the grocery store, on the kitchen counter, atop the feasting table – and gives us a snapshot of food at its liveliest and quirkiest.

Find out more about “Food for Thought: A Group Exhibition,” which is open until Saturday, May 14th.

Cooking the art coefficient: “Soup No Soup” at Gavin Brown

March 26, 2011 § 1 Comment

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Nicholas Savik sat quietly on his spindly chair, eating soup and listening the conversations around him. Chats drifted from fashion school aspirations to heartburn issues among his fellow visitors at the “Soup No Soup” soup kitchen at Gavin Brown’s gallery in the West Village. He slurped his tangy, yet savory coconut chicken soup. It was a warm relief from the chilly spring winds outside, but was it art?

The printmaker’s assistant from Columbia University was skeptical at first of famed artist Rirkrit Tiravanija’s latest edible component of the gallery exhibition, Fear Eats the Soul. How could this be art, asked the young artist.

“Then, I went to the opening night. They dug this pit in the gallery and put coals inside,” Savik recollected. “Rirkrit was like, ‘It’s time.’ ‘Time for what?’ I asked? He said, ‘You’ll see.’”

Fear Eats the Soul busts open the gallery’s white cube (Tiravanija took off the doors and windows), leaving it literally open and accessible since late February for all to wander inside its graffitied walls. However, the “Soup No Soup” kitchen only opened its doors earlier this month to share free bowls of homemade soup with visitors, some regulars now and some new.

This interactive soup kitchen is not just another pop-up restaurant, but rather in vein with Tiravanija’s signature works involving situations, viewers and, of course, food. Since the 90s, Tiravanija has been inviting viewers to eat and participate in his art whether it be chomping on fresh-made pad thai or sleeping, showering and celebrating birthdays in a plywood “apartment” he fashioned in Gavin Brown’s gallery. His works have graced prestigious institutions and fairs like the Museum of Modern Art, la Musee dʼArt Moderne de la Ville de Paris and the Venice Biennale. They’ve even earned him a Hugo Boss prize from the Guggenheim Museum.

Standing in front of huge metal pot, the Argentina-born, Thai artist stirred the coconut chicken soup inside. Tiravanija made the Thai dish himself, albeit he conceded the soup is missing some key ingredients like galanga, lemongrass and fish sauce. So, he improvised. Yet, his black beret and rose-colored glasses screamed artist rather than short-order cook. Swiftly and humbly, he ladled into white ceramic bowls his artwork. Once done, Tiravanija watched his work unfold, calling it “in between art and something else.”

Jerry Saltz said of the piece in nymag.com’s “Ask an Art Critic”:

“What makes all this so good — other than the free food (even better than at the art fairs!), the selflessness, the turning of space inside out, the way in which visitors are subtly transformed from being passive viewers to active participants, the tangible ways Tiravanija bridges mind-body splits, and the breaching of private and public barriers — is the lithe feeling of being in touch with the spirits of self-actualization that triggered such enormous growth in the art world in the early 1990s.”

For Tiravanija, it’s not about the actual soup (though it is good) or the visual presence of the art rather it as Saltz explained – the awakening relationship between the art and the viewer.

“I’m not a very visual artist,” Tiravanija admitted with a smile, “so, in that sense, art is in the situation and here is a situation that we’re often in.”

Sitting with friends and strangers. Sharing a meal together. We’ve all experienced these before, but “Soup No Soup” breaks the mundane designation of these situations, limited to mere chitchat and lunch dates, and makes an art of interaction.

“There’s not a lot to look at, but I’m more interested in the relationship,” Tiravanija explained, “the viewer isn’t as free to bring the experience to understand the art. I’m always inviting the viewer to explore. That viewer is half of the art.”

Since the gallery opening, Savik comes at least once a week to “Soup No Soup.” He is one of the regulars. Now, this is art, he says in between spoonfuls. Why the change of heart?

“Being part of it,” Savik said, “it is a very important aspect because it becomes more of a performance.”

Savik finished the last of his soup and put his spoon down.

“Also, the food is great,” he said cheerfully.

Check out more information about Fear Eats the Soul at Gavin Brown’s enterprise, which runs until Saturday, April 16th. For recipes from “Soup No Soup,” click here.