Art Market

Famed Chef and Collector Massimo Bottura Dishes on His Sotheby’s Collaboration

Benjamin Sutton
Sep 25, 2019 9:48PM

Massimo Bottura attends Once Upon A Kitchen at Gotham Hall on December 5, 2018 in New York City. Photo by Dave Kotinsky/Getty Images For God's Love We Deliver.

Contemporary art has long served as inspiration for dishes served at chef Massimo Bottura’s eatery, Osteria Francescana, which has repeatedly been ranked as the world’s best restaurant. This month, Bottura has traded his kitchen for an auction house salesroom. A hand-picked selection of works will be offered at Sotheby’s New York in its Contemporary Curated auction on Thursday morning.

For Bottura, working with Sotheby’s was a logical extension of his collecting practice. “This is part of my life,” he said, “and it’s this kind of personal relation that to me means a lot.” The sale includes several artists represented in the collection amassed by Bottura and his wife Lara Gilmore, like Vik Muniz and Ugo Rondinone. It also features its fair share of artists who’ve come to eat at his famous restaurant when they’ve had shows at Mazzoli Gallery, the powerhouse art space in Bottura’s hometown of Modena, Italy.

Alex Katz, Double Ada, 2002. Courtesy of Sotheby's.


“People like Alex Katz, Robert Longo, Ross Bleckner, Alighiero Boetti,” Bottura said. “They’ve all passed through Modena, and they came to my restaurant, and I had the opportunity to meet them.”

One work in the Sotheby’s sale that he’s especially fond of is the 12-foot-wide Alex Katz painting Double Ada (2002). The enormous painting features mirrored portraits of the artist’s wife at opposite ends of a rectangular canvas dominated by a field of vivid green. It’s expected to sell for a figure between $450,000 and $650,000.

Michelangelo Pistoletto, Lavoro - Cofano, 2008–11. Courtesy of Sotheby's.

Alighiero Boetti, Le Infinite Possibilità Di Esistere. Courtesy of Sotheby's.

“The big piece by Alex Katz to me is about obsession, his obsession with Ada, and the idea that for so many years, he must keep looking for transforming details,” Bottura said. “Obsession is the secret of my success, and I found that obsession in Alex Katz in such a deep way.”

The sale includes many works by American artists who are major market forces, like Katz, Kerry James Marshall, Elizabeth Peyton, and George Condo. Bottura’s selection also reflects his appetite for Italian art—which, like his taste for Italian food, is insatiable and adventurous. He expressed a deep reverence for Michelangelo Pistoletto and Francesco Clemente (artists included in his Sotheby’s selection), and a great appreciation for the work of Lucio Fontana. He also predicted growing market interest in photographer Carlo Benvenuto.

Cecily Brown, Have You Not Known, Have You Not Heard, 2011. Courtesy of Sotheby's.

“I tried to include a couple of Benvenuto works in this sale, but I couldn’t—and I didn’t want to sell mine,” he said. “He’s such an incredible genius, but internationally speaking, he’s practically unknown except for among a few amazing collectors.”

For Bottura, the act of collecting must be about the work first and foremost, rather than perceived value. Artists like Benvenuto or Fontana, he reasoned, can be making their most powerful work years or even decades before the market takes notice. Bottura referenced his hometown dealer, Emilio Mazzoli, who, in May 1981, gave the then-unknown New York artist Jean-Michel Basquiat his very first first solo show.

Elizabeth Peyton, John Kennedy Jr. Meets Queen Elizabeth I , 1999. Courtesy of Sotheby's.

George Condo, Multiple Personalities, 2019. Courtesy of Sotheby's,

“Nobody knew that guy—no one,” Bottura recalled. “Nearly 40 years later, pieces bought for $750 are being sold for $30 million. So you have to be clear with yourself when you approach new art. Do you want art, do you want ideas, or are you investing?”

Bottura previously collaborated with Sotheby’s when it hosted a pop-up of his renowned restaurant in London in 2015. This past spring, Sotheby’s hosted a launch event and sale of a whiskey bottled by Bottura to benefit his nonprofit, Food for Soul. This latest collaboration gives the master chef a chance to showcase the works of artists he loves. His own collection includes works by Robert Longo, Maurizio Cattelan, Gavin Turk, David Salle, Olafur Elíasson, Simon Starling, Wolfgang Tillmans, and others.

Francesco Clemente, The Skull, 1997. Courtesy of Sotheby's.

As for his own creative process, Bottura likened it to that of another famous artist.

“When Ai Weiwei is breaking the 2,000-year-old vase, he’s saying, ‘I’m not destroying my past breaking this vase, I’m just breaking my tradition to rebuild new traditions through a contemporary mind,’” Bottura explained. “For traditions to be revived, they need to be contemporized. You cannot cook like your grandmother, you have to evolve your way of doing things, but without forgetting who you are and where you come from.”

Benjamin Sutton