Artist Adam Siegel Collaborates with Grant Achatz and Nick Kokonas


Chicago artist Adam Siegel is no stranger to installing work in the fine dining scene. Since 2008, his paintings have been featured in Chef Jean Joho’s acclaimed French restaurant, Everest. He was also the first artist to exhibit in the salon series at Paul Kahan’s standout, Blackbird. Siegel’s latest project blends art, cuisine and performance in collaboration with celebrity chef and James Beard recipient Grant Achatz and his business partner Nick Kokonas of Alinea, Aviary, and Next. Their fourth restaurant, Roister, debuts this month as one the most anticipated openings in Chicago this year. The duo’s adventurous temporary culinary experience, The Progression, features 24 of Siegel’s custom works.

The Alinea Group has collaborated with the visual artist Adam Siegel to create The Progression: a very temporary and unique culinary event from chef Grant Achatz and the team behind Alinea. Given only three weeks to conceptualize, design, and build a space what would the world-class team behind Michelin three-starred Alinea create? How would they integrate Siegel's visual art into a dining experience in a meaningful way?

The result is a series of experiential culinary vignettes ranging from the serious to the sublime to the outright silly. Not exactly what one might expect from chefs known for their precise culinary technique.  But that's exactly the point.  Freed from the constraints of expectations The Progression decontextualizes the food from the typical high-end environs of a fine-dining establishment.  Playing with site, light, sound, movement and emotion is part of the act and asks the diner to give themselves over to the experiences as they move throughout the space.

The art was similarly conceived and produced in Siegel's studio with members of the Alinea Team, including chefs, acting as studio assistants. Period pieces, visualizations of strength and beauty, push and pull the viewer/diner in opposite or complimentary directions. Consisting of five collage/paintings and 12 photographs on canvass, plus two large-scale temporary installations, the works give life to the event.

An entirely new body of work consisting of 24 experimental pieces, which defy easy classification—even his collectors won’t recognize this as Adam Siegel. The work, under development for nearly 20 years, has finally come to fruition using a broad range of media. Both Achatz and Kokonas encouraged the artist to push and realize works that are not encumbered by traditional notions of what is appropriate to be in a restaurant. And that is exactly what Siegel did for The Progression. It’s edgy, passionate and ambitious.

Siegel uses a synthesis of digital technology, collage and painting as a way to bring his new series, Palimpsest, to life. He has been experimenting with a proprietary system employing capture technology primarily used for military intelligence. Utilizing an archive of more than 10,000 works from the 17th and 18th centuries encompassing quixotic manuscripts, bookplates, Japanese kimono designs, natural history works, and hard-to-find editions Siegel has mastered a technique where there is no trace or residue of digital technology. He acts as a curator of historical imagery, morphing obscure historical images into current culture.

The main dining room features two monumental Siegel works, “Love Under the Midnight Sun” and  “Atlas Moth” each playing off of each other. On one side, nature finds form in an arresting, 28-foot-wide moth, a mural using mixed media.  With its scale and physicality, the mural not only asks the viewer to redefine what they perceive but also to confront our collective vulnerability in the natural world. “Atlas Moth” is about distorting nature by the sheer scale—transforming the viewer into another universe. The viewer tries to find a new point of view to absorb this unfamiliar change in scale feeling humbled by the almost threatening physicality of the form,” says Siegel.

Across the room, another provocative work entitled, “Love Under the Midnight Sun,” stands opposite of “Atlas Moth” and creates a colorful, operatic panorama of a Japanese couple in repose. The lovers become embedded not only in each other, but also within an exotic architectural landscape with a midnight sun.

A nocturnal light and color palette held in synchronicity between these two opposing works finds harmonization and resolution through the viewer’s adaptive and interpretive embrace. “Unlike much contemporary artwork there is not a hint of irony in this theatrical and charged space. My vision embraces the warmth and vulnerability of the human spirit and raises a glass to being in the here and now,” says Siegel.

Siegel is also a photographer, and he created a special series of 12 limited edition prints and two artist proofs for The Progression. His photos are a study in opposites. Juxtaposing color with black and white, female with male, youth with age, the privacy of the body with the openness of public space, the new with the old—these photographs orbit the idea of time, how we circle around the past in an effort to reabsorb it into our lives with new meaning.

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