Adam SiegelAlissa Ponchione • December 21, 2016
When chef Jean Joho approached Adam Siegel at one of his exhibitions in Chicago, it was as a longtime fan and collector of the well-established abstract painter and photographer’s work. That meeting led to Joho commissioning two large-scale black and white paintings from Siegel’s Kimono series for the chef’s redesigned Chicago restaurant, Everest.
The collaboration took place in 2007, and even though it piqued Siegel’s interest in hospitality, he hadn’t dabbled again in restaurants until earlier this year. Taking a chance, he reached out to Alinea Group founders Grant Achatz and Nick Kokonas to propose they work together. Kokonas had previously purchased his art, and a few of Siegel’s friends had suggested he would be a good fit for them. They were right: His 8-by-5-foot “Boar’s Head” painting welcomes guests to the duo’s fourth restaurant Roister in Chicago, which opened in April.
That same month, Alinea Group launched the Progression, an experimental pop-up that covered five separate spaces in Chicago’s former Moto restaurant building, where Siegel enriched guests’ culinary journey with 24 custom works created in just under three weeks. “My idea was to set up this tension with the body, to awaken the senses,” he says. “The chef was going to take care of their palette. I wanted to do the same thing visually.”
In the white room, for instance, he hung 12 large-scale photographs that feature nude women holding black and white photos of architecture or nature above the tables. “It’s like having a third party to your dinner,” says Siegel. “Historically, in hospitality you don’t see nudes. My vision was to poke a hole in the assumption that it was wrong. It’s not ironic. It’s not supposed to be erotic. It’s poetic.”
Two 28-foot-wide mixed media murals “Atlas Moth” and “Love Under the Midnight Sun”—which depicts a couple in repose—played off each other in the green grass-clad main dining room, while on the two end walls, dog paintings “Zeus” and “Duke” acted “like lions guarding the entrance,” he says. And in a third room, a trio of paintings, including a blue wolf, a hovering planet, and an embracing Japanese couple, signaled a subtle, knowing relationship. The works were either temporary like the murals, have been sold, or are now part of his current exhibition at the city’s Golden Triangle antique furniture store.
It’s these compelling pieces in restaurant spaces, and even healthcare projects, that Siegel says allow him to “come up with something that is more exciting, more relevant, more powerful, and more enduring than what I have ever imagined.”