M assimo Bottura shot to fame when his restaurant Osteria Francescana was ranked the second best restaurant in the world in 2015. The following year it took the top spot. It may seem unusual for a medieval city such as Modena to be home to the greatest restaurant on earth, but to think this is to fail to take into account the unorthodox and almost unbelievable way Bottura works. At the heart of Osteria Francescana is both Italian food and contemporary art, and it starts to get quite hard to separate out where one ends and the other begins. So, it seems natural that a man of such great taste – a word that applies both to food and art – should be the curator of Sotheby’s Contemporary Curated this September in New York.
Massimo Bottura at the Intersection of Art and Artisan
Bottura knows his art from an intimate position. As he says, “We started collecting artworks that were personal, that inspired us, and we started putting them on our walls at home.” It was not long before Bottura and his wife Lara realised that they could go further. “The art had a place in Francescana. The works could be a little clue for our diners to understand the thinking that goes into the dishes: why we are cooking in that way, why we are greeting people in a certain way.”
"We break things, we rebuild things."
Bottura is always learning from his art. He has a piece, Dursley-Pedersen frame readymade, 2003, by Simon Starling – a British artist best known for melting objects into each other – that reforms a bicycle frame into a bridge. “This is a piece that I personally love immensely,” he says. “It’s exactly what we do when we create ‘The Crunchy Part of the Lasagne’ [a dish on the menu at Osteria Francescana]. We break things, we rebuild things. We start from the past and we create the future through what has been and also what we have now.”
Massimo Bottura's Contemporary Curated Picks
But sometimes his relationship with the art seems to be one of pure appreciation. “One of my favourite artists, who I met many years ago in 1995 – when no one was paying attention – is Alex Katz,” says Bottura. The two met when Katz exhibited in Modena. Bottura now describes a work of his as one his “favourite paintings ever”.
Bottura’s signature cooking is deeply personal, and his approach to work is all-consuming. It is therefore no surprise that he values these characteristics in Katz’s work. “I love Katz’s obsession with his muse. Ada is always there, she’s always part of his world… and this really interests me. I’m an obsessive person, I’m kind of autistic in some way because it’s all about getting successful, focus and getting deep into things. The things that interest me became a passion, and through passion you can transfer emotions.”
It’s a quality that has taken Bottura to the heights of his profession as a chef. As he says, “There’s a very important art critic in Italy called Achille Bonito Oliva who always said that I’m the sixth artist of the [Neo-Expressionist Italian art movement] Transavanguardia.” Bottura does not make a claim for himself as an artist, however. “The artist is free to do whatever he wants. An artisan like me has to cook good food and healthy food,” he says. “A great engineer is an artisan because he has to build fast cars. That’s the thin line that reminds you of the very important difference between art that is the highest example of being human – the dream – and the artisan.”
“[Bonito Oliva] reminded me that there is a special word that they used in Latin – artiere,” Bottura says. Somewhere between an artist and an artisan, an artiere is a craftsperson passionate about quality. Driven by his obsession to create something radical and different, Bottura certainly falls into that category. It will be fascinating to see what such a creative, trailblazing figure will select as his choices in the upcoming Contemporary Curated sale.
Contemporary Curated will be on view in New York from 20–25 September. Auction: 26 September.
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