Are museum visits and culinary greatness beginning to fuse together? Museums world-wide are realizing that food can form an integral part of the visitor’s overall experience. Yet, does the option of dining add to or detract from the overall experience? Do people come for the food and are lured in to the galleries? Or do people come for the art and are peasantly surprised by the option of high-class dining?
Recently, a new phenomenon has begun to pop up in Paris as an installation piece has been installed to serve the dual purpose of a work of art as well as provide a dining atmosphere. Museum visitors can now wine and dine within the sculptural structure itself as well and become a temporary part of the installation piece. The piece at Palais de Tokyo-contemporary art museum was designed by a winner of France’s Marcel DuChamp prize, Laurent Grasso. The piece is a translucent box/glass structure transforming all who eat at the restaurant into aspects of the work itself. A recent New York Times article, Where Art and Haute Cuisine Meet in Paris, provides further information on the exhibition as the author recounts his unique dining experience at the restaurant. The article also discusses other unique dining experiences at various venues, such as one in an aquarium. Could these new restaurants become the rule rather than the exception?
Fine dining and fine art appear to be combining across the United States as well. Museums such as the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum (above) and the Museum of Art and Design have recently revamped their cafeterias providing visitors the option of a memorable meal to complete their day. Museums are now expressing a desire to have dining facilities that are on the same level with the rest of the museum. Yet, should one keep in mind the museum’s mission as a museum, and view the restaurant as a perk rather than a central point? Where should the line between the two exist?
The New Britain Museum of American Art’s own restaurant, Café on the Park which overlooks historic Walnut Hill Park, proposes museum visitors with the option to extend their stay and experience a lunch or snack prepared by award-winning Jordan Caterers of Cheshire. Café on the Park features bistro-style seating near floor-to-ceiling windows or outdoors on the terrace, weather permitting, providing magnificent views of the Park. This opportunity allows visitors a relaxing scenic spot to rest after touring the Museum and the chance to admire the Museum’s outdoor sculptural park. Furthermore, the Café themes many of their dishes on the Museum’s permanent collection and exhibitions, and also hosts opening night dinners and receptions.
In addition, here at the New Britain Museum of American Art, we offer a variety of events for all ages as we feel visitors can enjoy art in a social environment. First Fridays, offered on the first Friday of every month, affords those in attendance with an evening of jazz accompanied with wine, beer, soda and hors’d’oeurves. The Museum also offers Museum After Dark parties which target young professionals and provide them with an opportunity to enjoy art, music, food and an open bar. Our aim is to present people with a unique way to experience and enjoy art.
Another major event at the Museum is The Art of Wine and Food. Held annually in the fall, this event is a the second-largest fundraiser of the year for the Museum. This event features wine tastings and exquisite food cooked in the galleries themselves by numerous local restaurants and caterers. It is also hosted by internationally known chefs. This past year, Robert Irvine and Mary Ann Esposite acted as the honorary chairs. Following the food service, there is a live auction of amazing wines as well as trips to vineyards and other amazing lots. It is a wonderful night of wine, food, and art!
Do you think these new restaurants pose the threat of overpowering a museum? Could this new trend cause museums to lose their charm? Or do the restuarants complement the collections and exhibitions?