View from my end of the table at AO&’s curated dinner
Coming down from Chelsea Piers on a taxi on my way down to NYC’s Lower East Side, I wasn’t sure where exactly I was supposed to meet my friend for dinner. She told me earlier that evening to be there at 8pm, but I had just finished working a fair and wasn’t sure if I could be there on time. Arriving at Broome and Forsyth, there was no restaurant in sight. Looking around, I saw a couple that seemed just as lost as I was. “Are you here for the dinner?” ”Yeah,” I replied. As we called our respective friend, a door opened on Broome right next to Simon Preston’s gallery inviting us in. Walking up the stairs, (this was no restaurant I realized), we arrived at an abandoned storefront set-up with a makeshift kitchen and a long nicely lit dining table. This was no ordinary dinner. It was the performance/experiential work of the Austrian collective AO&; a part of their Fall residency at Simon Preston Gallery.
Derelict storefront and view inside, AO&’s makeshift kitchen
Bringing together a group of 20 art professionals (curators, artists, gallerists, fair directors, and others), the dinner I attended was just one of a series of 11 course dinners prepared by AO& and led by us, the attendees. Feeding from the concept of art as act and not gesture or object, the dinner’s focus and main protagonist was the conversation that developed around the table. By all means not a new concept, but one that is interesting enough to keep around. Reminiscent of Hans Ulrich-Obrist’s ‘brainstorming marathons’ and his Brutally Early Club, a migrating ‘salon’ that meets in cafés across London at 6:30am, AO&’s work is truly experiential. The concept is to curate a group of people, and through the conversations that ignite between them, develop an informal dialogue. Of his curated meetings Obrist says “it’s about creating sparks between people who otherwise wouldn’t meet. We don’t have a space where scientists and poets, say, can just meet by chance. It needs some curating to make it happen.”  And that’s exactly what AO& invites people to do.
Bringing only salt from Altaussee and Austrian Moric wine, all of the ingredients that comprised each of AO&’s dishes were carefully chosen from local suppliers. Starting off with a delicious vegetable consommé, the dinner developed into an exquisite selection of elaborate dishes with simple, fresh ingredients. Before each course, the artists would disclose the origin and process of each dish. It’s an experience that begs to be repeated; a true ‘dematerialization’ or ‘demystification’ of the art object. Tying in contemporary production to an everyday act makes me think of the ways that art and practice actually coincide, in the most literal sense. It seems that nowadays art is muddled in such theoretical jargon, that practice seems relegated to the back burner. We speak of artistic practice, but how does it really relate to the actual application of the ideas behind the work? In most cases, contemporary ‘practice’ has really become acquiescent. By providing a platform for an informal dialogue, AO&’s work is really concerned with the act of bringing people together. And what better way that around a dinner table with a bottle of superb wine.
Excerpt from interview, Hans Ulrich Obrist, The London Evening Standard