Just like any great avant-garde creator, chef Massimo Bottura became one of the world’s top chefs by messing with what was most sacred to Italian cuisine—its tradition. With subversive menu items created by challenging beloved generations-old recipes, it’s no surprise that contemporary art has served as one of his major influences.
Among one of his favorite works is Ai Weiwei’s Dropping Aa Han Dynasty Urn (LEGO). It hangs in his Michelin-starred restaurant Osteria Francescana in Modena, Italy, and depicts the artist dropping a 2000-year-old artifact, a metaphor for shattering the past to blaze a trail for the new guard. Bottura has spoken about his admiration for the work as a metaphor for his own practice.
This is one of many pieces that hangs in Francescana, amongst a world class collection with pieces by Maurizio Cattelan, Jonathan Borofsky, Olafur Eliasson, Elliot Erwitt and Gavin Turk (whose Bin Bag trash sculpture is sometimes mistaken for a real bag of garbage). The eclectic collection is a testament to the chef’s great eye and eccentric taste.
For this reason, Botturra makes the perfect fit to select artworks for Sotheby’s upcoming Contemporary Curated sale, a special, bi-annual auction that invites cultural tastemakers to pick accessibly priced post-war and contemporary works of art. Art world favorites from Cecily Brown, Alex Katz and Kerry James Marshall to Italian Arte Povera pioneers like Michelangelo Pistoletto and Algiherro Boetti are a few of the artists in the sale.
Art is also something that seeps into Botturra’s cooking philosophy with some of the most famous menu items inspired by the pieces that hang in the restaurant. Perhaps most notably is the Damien Hirst-inspired dish splattered with colorful herb sauces entitled Beautiful Sonic Disco of Love and Hate at the Gate of Hell Painting with Wicked Pools of Glorious Color and Psychedelic Spin Painted Lamb, Not Flame Grilled.
Though it can be argued that Bottura has elevated food into an art form—the renowned Italian art critic Achille Bonito Oliva has even compared Bottura to a Neo-Expressionist—the chef does not consider himself to be an artist.
“The artist is free to do whatever he wants. An artisan like me has to cook good food and healthy food,” he told Sotheby’s in a recent interview.
An exhibition of the Contemporary Curated sale will be on view at Sotheby’s on September 20 before the auction takes place on the 26th.