Coffee by Jonathan Pierce


I am an artist who likes food.

I don't make so much art. But I like food very much.

Some clever people say they dislike the Proust's madelaine/memory short hand. They see it as a cliché. They are a little foolish and snobby. I like it. It is sentimental but also useful.

Not so many years back my friend, Georgina Batty made an artwork which consisted of a gallery filled with the smell of chocolate cake. It was wonderful. Apparently the art critic Adrian Searle rushed out with a broad smile on his face shouting 'Proust, Proust!' So people still like Proust's memory food. I was told that Adrian Searle also effused about Aphex Twin during the same talk. Later my girlfriend told him to fuck himself at a private view in Soho.

Lots of people make art with food. Chocolate was very popular with people like Kiki Smith who used it to say how hard it is to be a woman. My girlfriend made a cast of her then boyfriend in chocolate in the pose of Rodin's Thinker. Afterwards she ate it. That was art about unhappiness as well. But the chocolate smelling room is not about unhappiness, it is about how nice food can be. Like Proust's madelaine it is about the way olfactory memories work. So I really, really liked it and want to make something similar.

I thought the only problem with it was that there was no delicious chocolate cake at the end. The only way it could have been better was, if after smelling delicious chocolate cake there actually was chocolate cake. The experience was precisely bathetic. Shortly afterwards I saw an exhibition at the Showroom (a small, fashionable gallery in Hackney) that was about the history of tea. Twinings sponsored it and you could have as much free tea as you wanted. It was very civilized but didn't smell as nice as the chocolate cake. It didn't fill you with unfulfilled longing. It filled you with fulfilled slight - wanting (there seems to be no good word for moderate or gentle desire in the thesaurus; life is lived at extremes).

So here this is my idea for an artwork that is quite similar to those mentioned above.

The Project



A coffee cart in the Tate that gives out free coffee

Get sponsorship from Monmouth Street Coffee House because they are the best in London. Double check it is Fairtrade coffee, but I am sure it is. Then I will run a simple coffee cart in a smallish gallery in Tate Britain and give out free coffee to everyone. I will also give out the perfect little chocolate truffles the Monmouth Coffee House does from time to time.

There will be some chairs. It will be like a free coffee house and everyone will be happy and the gallery will smell as good as the gallery with the chocolate cake. Better for me because I prefer the smell of coffee. I think coffee is fundamentally an adult smell whilst the smell of chocolate cake is, like the madelaine, basically childish.

The people who make sad art with food can come and enjoy free coffee and they will make happy art with food afterwards.

It will last for a month


All artists are expected to be able to talk about their work these days. They must explain the thinking behind it. Which I am not sure is always necessary. But here goes. There are lots of good, clever reasons why I want to make this. Lots of questions I ponder whilst thinking about it. But like most art I want to make it because it will provide pleasure to people. And a space to ponder how good the world can be.

So six reasons for putting a coffee trolley in the Tate:

The Tate depends on commerce to survive. A large part of its profits are derived from the café. This artwork short-circuits the money/art relationship intellectually and practically. No one would go to the mediocre café at the Tate if they could get delicious Monmouth Coffee House Coffee for free. That is the main reason why it could never happen.

Critics can talk happily about the fact that the smell of coffee is intangible like the sublime of the Romantics.

Marcel Duchamp said everyone was an artist. I want to suggest that everything is art. It is only how you talk about it that matters. My coffee is as important to me as any artwork I have seen.

Galleries and art are often solipsistic experiences. Coffee is sociable. Here people will talk and enjoy the experience of art communally. It changes the gallery space, a bit like the installations Felix Gonzalez-Torres made with sweeties. We are not used to looking at art whilst drinking coffee.

In a recent exhibition called 'Food' the Czech animator and artist Jan Svankmeyer made food look repulsive and guilty and perverse. But there was a sense that food and visual art have parallels worth exploring. Both sustain and nourish in different ways. But why has there always been a prejudice that favours the sustenance of spirit over that of the body. Here sensual indulgence is made the artistic experience. Not postponed as with the chocolate cake, not vicarious (and sad) as with the chocolate Rodin. But the actual experience in its fundamental, immanent actuality.

6)But is it art?
Like every art work in the world it asks questions about what art works are and what they do. This is an artwork without ellipses. It is a coffee cart giving out free coffee. It is simply that. And I think that is wonderful. I don't think I care whether it is art. I don't really see how that matters. But it is interesting and complex and challenging if you want it to be. But you can equally just treat it like a good cup of coffee. Memorable.

Find sponsors (Monmouth Street Coffee House)
Talk to Nicholas Serota of the Tate re. Gallery space

2006 if no major hitches

A project by Jonathan Pierce, 2004. Thank you for your interest in Jonathan Pierce projects.
If you feel you could help and you are either a representative of the Monmouth Coffee House or Sir Nicholas Serota please email me at: