In January, South William Street bade farewell to Gallery X, which had been a home for erotic and macabre art.
Now, after a nine-month reprieve, gallery owner Giovanni Giusti is ready to return. He’s bringing with him many of the artists who featured in the old gallery – but in a brand-new space.
On Sunday afternoon, Giusti was finishing up brunch with friends and family at the restaurant Feast, on Golden Lane, near Kevin Street.
Saying his goodbyes, and making plans to regroup later, Giusti moved to a quieter table, with his friend, business partner, and Feast’s owner, Sergey Letsko, to discuss their upcoming gallery-restaurant venture.
It’s quiet here but it’s been mostly friends and family this week. The space is muted, but bright, with open, dark-grey walls, dark floorboards and abundant plant life.
The beginnings of a gallery are visible across the walls: understated portraits of tendril-haired women, and a small crimson Satan figure in the corner.
The restaurant has been open just over a week, and the gallery is set to open at the end of October, says Giusti. Like Gallery X, Feast is in its second incarnation, having been in in Dún Laogháire for two years before.
Giusti and Letsko know what they want from the coming weeks: to find ways to bring food and art together, as two basic sensual experiences, where creativity and skill can flourish.
Rather than being a straightforward art gallery or restaurant, they want this to be a space to play with themes of art, food, and the crossover – particularly performance art, and the art of plating food.
Food and Art
“It was a combination of burnout and doing everything on my own,” says Giusti, of the gallery’s closure in January. “I’m bad at doing things with other people,” he says, with a laugh.
“I couldn’t give it the attention it needed. I was losing momentum and working too hard. It wasn’t giving me satisfaction, [so] I decided to take a temporary break,” Giusti says.
He thought that was final. Until he got talking to Letsko, a long-time neighbour and friend, who was about to re-open Feast.
Letsko says emotional enjoyment is at the heart of both art and food. “We would like to bring it to perfection, with an experimental aspect,” he says.
Says Giusti: “I really like the idea of a restaurant. It’s more focused and ambitious. The love of feeding people is a wonderful thing, like art, and wanting to bring beautiful artworks for people to enjoy.”
Whether it’s for the food, or for an exhibition, people will come for a new experience, says Letsko.
The gallery will have two roles: as a place of culture and as a shop, where guests can buy pieces of art. “As a shop, it should be managed in a more commercial way. I couldn’t do that [before]. It will be interesting to have it in a different space,” he Giusti says.
Letsko says it’s the same with the restaurant, which must have a commercial aspect, but is a passion project first.
“We show things that are very sensual or erotic,” Giusti says. Which again mirrors food which is “one of the great sensual experiences, at any age.”
The gallery space is not an afterthought, or an attractive addition to a main business, the business partners say.
The pieces will be going up along the windows and walls. But the space is not going to be overcrowded or jammed with art, says Letsko.
“The lighting will be somewhere between a restaurant and a gallery,” says Giusti.
The gallery will be open from 5pm to 7pm Wednesday to Sunday when the restaurant is also open for the early bird menu and a nibbles menu; from 7pm on, the restaurant will be open and the artwork will only be available to view by diners.
“At the moment, we’re testing it out and seeing what works best for guests of the gallery and the restaurant,” says Letsko.
Exhibitions will run every three months, says Giusti. That will give him more time to prepare. He used to have them monthly on South William Street.
Giusti says he already has a full programme for the year. He won’t unveil who the artists are yet, but says they are from all over – with two Italian artists, one Irish artist and one Mexican artist as part of the line-up.
Letsko opens a folder of work by next month’s artist, an Italian “new Baroque” painter. The work is not too extreme for a restaurant, but sensual enough to represent the gallery.
“I could have just bought beautiful paintings and put them in my house,” Giusti says. But there is pleasure in sharing them with other people, he says.
They have loads of ideas for how food and art can work together, they say. Especially the great potential to link performance art to food experiences, says Giusti. From mid-October on, he’ll be running more performance-art-style pieces in the gallery.
The nature of the work might change slightly – it can’t be too explicit now it’s in a restaurant. But that’s not censorship; it still needs to make an emotional impact, they explain together.
Gallery X has always been an outsider’s space, says Guisti. “I care more about the relationship with the public.”
Not for the first time in the conversation, he and Letsko agree.