By Michael Glasmeier

It was not merely regret, it felt more like a melancholic void that I have not been able to shake ever since, true to its inner logic, dreijahre restaurant closed down for good in 2010. As a guest, I was wonderfully taken care of to such an extent that, though well aware of it, I had managed to repress all thought of the digital tick-tock that counted down the time remaining for this art project by dilettantin produktionsbüro which had been set up in 2007. And then, in a good mood as usual expecting a feast, I suddenly encountered a locked door, and the question presented itself: Where to go in Bremen? Where to meet friends and acquaintances, where to have business, conspiratorial, silly and professional talks? Not that there weren’t any restaurants in this city, there were just none that compared.

What was it that made it such a special and distinctive place? First of all, dreijahre offered several types of gastronomic experience. In the summer you could sit outside watching the delectably animated, colorful alternative life unfold in Bremen’s “Viertel”. The spectator might have a bit of a backseat in a side road, but would still be a part of it, within sight of the streetcar stop, bank and bicycle store, and opposite a tremendously noteworthy anarchistic book store. Thus, there was always lots to see, and you could always sit back and relax. Upon entering the place, guests found themselves in a spacious, clearly laid out room with a bar and small tables by the windows. To the right, there was another room with a remarkably large blackboard with a handwritten wine list. The room was arranged in a bistro style, set up for a long afternoon coffee or an evening meal at simple wooden tables. In the back, a living room of sorts with a rear-view window made for a cozy atmosphere, possibly because of its narrowness, and further heightened by an open fire. This was where lone wolves, lovers and professionals used to dine. An adjoining room was reserved for the big festive table, with small tables on the left-hand side. That was not all, however: I cannot not mention the cozy smoking area, which had steps leading behind a glass façade. There was apparently also a club in the basement, but I have never seen it.
These rooms, intelligently and tastefully arranged in a mixture of old and new tables and seating, were ideally styled to suit the guests’ diverse needs. There was room equally for the solitary bon vivant and for group meals, debauchery, fine dining and the dynamism of the digital Bohemian and cool hipster. Skillful lighting, varying between chandelier, wall light and floor lamp, brought out the atmosphere of each room, be it the dimly-lit living room or the clear-cut dining area, brought to life by the little flickering of white candles. It was this that rendered dreijahre so unique: the thoughtful orchestration of various atmospheres for different guest needs. dreijahre thus contradicted the conventions of an industry that forces guests into a generic design concept irrespective of their moods, needs and intentions. 
Therefore, it was not all that surprising that the artistic setting drew in not only artists, but a hugely diverse set of people, thus turning dreijahre into one of Bremen’s gastronomic highlights. Had the project gone on for a longer time, I am sure it would have been mentioned, if not praised, in Michelin and Varta guides. The cuisine perfected what the atmosphere promised: no experiments, but skillfully prepared, traditional German cuisine with mashed potatoes and sauces, roasted meats and fish, exquisite appetizers, soups, salads and desserts. Seasonal produce was considered and no exotic spices found their way onto plates – it was just simple, ecological and tasty food that was well cooked, no amuse-bouche, tapas craze or deep-fried spring rolls. Such real-time cooking naturally led to holdups and waiting guests every now and then, but that did not bother the guests (provided they were not in a hurry), as the atmosphere was right and there were plenty of current newspapers and magazines around for the solitary diner.
Staff were recruited from the University of the Arts (Hochschule für Künste), the birthplace of the project, and I found it very interesting to see how the art and design students who sat in my seminars in the mornings would take on their new roles in a very professional manner. First I was attending upon them, then, in the evenings, they would attend upon me. Without a doubt a difference in “gifts”, but even the most rebellious amongst them served not just me, but each and every guest in the same most polite and obliging manner. One could easily argue that the students used this special kind of gastronomy only to improve their meager income, but waiting at dreijahre was more than just a job. There was almost a reversal of roles, clashing with our perception of radicant art with its “semionauts”, which are not all that interested in the “specificity of the medium”.[1]Here the somewhat anthropological-sociological concept of the gift, which combines talent and present and becomes visible in creativity, becomes all the more attractive.[2] Lewis Hyde notes: “These two meanings of gift [talent, inspiration] refer to the creative process alone – the inner life of art – yet in my opinion we should extend them to include the completed work, which is beyond the artist’s reach: Art that matters to us – which moves the heart, or revives the soul, or delights the senses, or offers courage for living, however we choose to describe the experience – is received as a gift is received. Even if we have paid a fee at the door of the museum or concert hall, when we are touched by a work of art something comes to us that has nothing to do with the price. In the evening, after looking at the pictures of a landscape painter, I saw when walking through a nearby pine forest colors and shadows I had not perceived the day before. The artists’ gifts can awaken our spirit with their own. The work speaks, as Joseph Conrad wrote, to that part of our existence that is, for its part, a gift and not purchased.”[3]
I was thinking about this notion of gift when I saw the server do their job in an understated manner, a performance of artists which saw not the ego highlighted – which often accounts for the precariousness of performances – but a mimesis, a dramatization of imitation so subtly perfect that one must speak of an artistic work on the one side and of an accomplished craftwork on the other.[4]Lewis Hyde’s words might seem a bit emphatic, even exalted, but they do emphasize that art, even the most radicant kind, is primarily about potential – a fact that tends to be overlooked nowadays in light of a certain self-referentiality of contemporary art production. 
Nonetheless, it became obvious after Marcel Duchamp, John Cage or Fluxus, that this potential should not only be sought within the art system, in museums or galleries, but also in everyday life. As such, the gift is not just given to us in the context of art, as traditionalist Lewis Hyde states, but is, in a broader sense, also given to us any time artists and artwork touch people’s everyday lives. We might even say that the gift becomes more powerful the further it distances itself from its inherent artistic space. Only then can we fully estimate its value, even if we have to pay €30 for food and drinks.
Yes, all in all, dreijahre was a gift that worked all the better due to the project’s tight timeframe, which certainly did not allow for the accumulation of any great riches. That fact alone made dreijahre even more of a gift, because the guest did not experience art in the proper sense. Instead, here art meant making art disappear. What was produced in its place was an atmosphere, the gift of a business solely dedicated to the well-being of others: no artist’s hangout then, no gallery café, no Eat Art, no forced art, but just the simple, pure gift. Even Al’s Café, run by conceptual artist Allen Ruppersberg in 1960s Los Angeles, had offered an inedible “assemblage menu” of artistic objects for the price of a meal. Most patrons came for the drinks, however. It turned into a meeting point for artists (John Baldessari, William Wegman, Ed Rusha, Allan Kaprow, Jack Goldstein and others). “Al’s Cafewas different to other artists’ bars in that, aside from the motto menus and Ruppersberg’s other creations, there was no other artistic program there: ‘No ideas of ART around’ as Ruppersberg puts it. For him, this limited period of a few years as restaurant owner was an artistic project and therefore a key moment in both his life and art – a time of talking and thinking about the world and art, over a beer or a coffee. That’s how the guests saw it too, and that was a recipe for success.”[5]
dilettantin produktionsbüro might have had similar experiences to Ruppersberg, even if daily business was more concerned with the “world” rather than “art”. At dreijahre, the now extreme and obvious omission of such art (which in reality was what initiated the project and which was surely influenced conceptually by several of the guests at Al’s Café) and at the same time the omission of any artist’s ego, which usually asks for fame and glory in exchange for his gift, verge on the radicant. Instead, something else emerged. One could call it atmospheric concentration, the potential of an art that prefers to stay hidden away because it serves to improve human life overall. Art retires to the “mode of the gift” and remains anonymous there: a kind of art production which some of the most distinguished artists of the Renaissance and Baroque practiced, for instance, to arrange parties, enrich parades with ideas and turn the artificial life of a “courtly man” into successful moments.[6]Naturally, only fragments and reports of these ephemeral works by artists like Leonardo, Parmigianino or Bernini have survived to the present day.[7]Nonetheless, these artists cared about atmospheric concentration as well, even though it might be going more in the direction of sensation and exaggeration. We would call it event culture today.
If I may, I would like to use this little retrospection to point out that even the pre-Modern artist acted in a radicant way, even if it was in the role of a court and clerical commissioned artist. One could therefore conclude that it has always been a basic responsibility of art to create and impact upon atmosphere. This sort of art production was put to an immediate halt by the rise of museums which expelled the ephemeral in art and instead considered eternal values the top priority. The 20th-century avant-garde tried to reverse this process with anarchic power – often, lamentably, without success. However, integrating art into daily life as the Dadaists, Situationists, Fluxists or Conceptual artists sought to do could only work if this paralyzing environmental space could be turned into an atmospheric space, if art were organized in such a way that its visibility were essentially hidden from its bourgeois audience without, however, getting lost in invisibility.
This can only be a side note to the topic and needs proper elucidation. Today, Anne Cauquelin has got to the heart of this movement. She speaks of the “new slogans of artistic activity – which exclude the enclosed, restricted body of the work to promote the space it occupies, its environment.”[8]Yet if the artistic work consists of the precise organization of places of communication that are suitable for everyday life, one has to devote special attention to the atmosphere. It has to fit, to cut to the chase, as we expect of painted, filmic or sculptural elements of artworks on the wall or in the projection room. Nonetheless, one has to make one further distinction. dreijahre was no readymade in the sense of Duchamp or even in the sense of Conceptual artists Terry Atkinson and Michael Baldwin, who declared the British city of Oxford an “art ambience” in their “Declaration Series” (1967).[9]Likewise, dreijahre was no dramatization in the sense of George Brecht, who through his events assigned new value to everyday things, putting them into new perspectives,[10] nor was dreijahre an intervention in the sense of Michael Asher, who took certain things from their environment and introduced new ones into it.[11]Every one of these artists, as well as those from Al’s Café mentioned earlier, could be called key witnesses of the dreijahre “dining area project”, as they influence their surroundings atmospherically and work on dissolving the concept of work. The project in Bremen, however, introduced a crucial new element, namely the construction, the initiation of the place and the specific, affectionate examination of all that which characterizes gastronomy, without quoting, in true Postmodern irony, the great masters of Conceptual art. 
Art is about thinking. It is/should be an intellectual process which, in this case, is geared to the “event of being” (Michail Bachtin) of gastronomy,[12]in order to accommodate a still valid demand of the craft: “Comfortable seating, tables, where your knees are safe from harm, an interior design that permits being both alone and in company…”[13]This, apart from good food and drink, is the goal in Bremen. Essentially this is the main artistic event, conveyed by the inauguration of atmosphere as the link between art and daily life.[14]In this way, a place reaches that poetic state we find in the works of the aforementioned artists and which cannot be cancelled out – not even through discourse analysis. Good art opens up the poetry of simple actions and the scope of thought and action, especially when there is no “masterpiece” that is intended for the art world, but when “real” art retires in favor of atmosphere and the “event of being”. This poetic character of the project is articulated in the beautiful three stanzas welcoming guests at dreijahre: 
So, I am sitting here as early as 6 pm after finishing my day’s work, in this poetic art(work) which is as simple and precise as a poem by William Carlos Williams.[15]I order my water and the daily special, read the local paper (which does not take long) and after that, the cultural sections in other papers, interrupted by a delicately frugal meal. I chat a bit with the server and let my eyes wander in the not yet overfull place, glance at the corner where an old framed portrait of a person I do not know is sitting atop the piano. All very natural. In-between, I appreciate the quiet music coming from the speakers, New Folk, Jazz, Singer/Songwriting, Disco and House classics – a very specific type of music, music that cannot be compared to the usual gastro-tootling. The time passes more quickly or more slowly, depending on the selection and order of the songs and depending whether I am waiting, eating, looking, reading or chatting. It is the sort of music that one can listen to, but does not have to, music that remains interesting and is not noisy but also doesn’t get boring or depressing. This clever selection of music again emphasizes the fact that this is the ideal dining area which, in its atmospheric concentration, opens up to the guest as the central figure the greatest possible space to be present as a person and well cared for. Precisely because nothing was left to chance and everything was well planned, because my needs as a guest were not met with resistance in the form of neglect, noise or OTT design, because I could simply enjoy the food and drink, could simply “be”, either with others or by myself, I will miss the gift dreijahre was as a happy place of art.
Michael Glasmeier, Professor for art studies at University of the Arts Bremen, numerous publications on art history and the theory and practice of contemporary art—in scholarly publications and exhibition catalogs, curator of exhibitions on, among other things, comedy and art (2009), the 50th anniversary of the documenta in Kassel (2005), on tableaux vivants (2002), Baroque and contemporary art (2001), Samuel Beckett and Bruce Nauman (2000), criminality and art (1999), artists’ books (1994), artists’ LPs (1989) and visual poetry (1987). Lives in Bremen and Berlin.
(published in: No ART Around – About the (Im)possibility to Operate a Restaurant as Art, Berlin, 2012)

[1] The radicant is an expansion on Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari’s notion, likewise from the root language, of “rhizome”, see Nicolas Bourriaud: Radikant, (Berlin, 2009), esp. pp. 53–7.
[2] On the discussion of the gift by Marcel Mauss and others see the volume of essays by Ingrid Hentschel, Una H. Moehrke, Klaus Hoffman (eds.): Im Modus der Gabe. Theater, Kunst, Performance in der Gegenwart, (Bielefeld, 2011); see also Ursula Panhans-Bühler: Gegeben sei: die Gabe. Duchamps Flaschentrockner in der vierten Dimension, (Hamburg, 2009).
[3] Lewis Hyde: Die Gabe. Wie Kreativität die Welt bereichert, (Frankfurt/Main, 2008), p. 14
[4] See Mehdi Belhaj Kacem: Inästhetik und Mimesis, (Berlin, 2001); Mimesen. (Themenheft) ilinx – Berliner Beiträge zur Kulturwissenschaft, no. 2, 2011.
[5] Ulrike Groos: “’Optimismus bei Tisch’ – Zu einigen ausgewählten Künstlerlokalen”, in: Eating the Universe. Vom Essen in der Kunst, exhib. cat., (Kunsthalle Düsseldorf, Galerie im Taxispalais Innsbruck, Kunstmuseum Stuttgart, Cologne, 2009), pp. 56–75, here p. 64.
[6] See Baldesar Castiglione: Das Buch vom Hofmann (1528), (Munich, 1986).
[7] Research on ephemeral art in the early Modern Age is correspondingly lacking. Most material is in contemporary texts or Lives of Vasari. However, see, e.g., Philine Helas: Lebende Bilder in der italienischen Festkultur der Renaissance, (Berlin, 1999); Charles Avery: Bernini, (Munich, 1998).
[8] Anne Cauquelin: Verkehr mit den Unkörperlichen, (Berlin, 2007), p. 129.
[9] See “Art & Language: “Einleitung,” in: Gerd de Vries (ed.): Über Kunst. Künstlertexte zum veränderten Kunstverständnis nach 1965, (Cologne, 1974), pp. 29–49, here p. 45.
[10] See George Brecht: Water Yam (1963), (Brussels, Hamburg, 1986); Gabriele Knapstein: George Brecht: Events, (Berlin, 1999).
[11] See Benjamin H.D. Buchloh (ed.): Michael Asher. Writings 1973 -1983 on Works 1969 – 1979, (Halifax, 1983).
[12] See Michail M. Bachtin: Zur Philosophie der Handlung, (Berlin, 2011).
[13] Ernst Pauly (ed.): 20 Jahre Café des Westens. Erinnerungen an den Kurfürstendamm, (Berlin, 1913/14), reprint: Hanover, 1988, p. 60.
[14] See e.g. Michael Glasmeier: “Atmosphäre machen”, in: ibid.: Extreme 1-8. Vorträge zur Kunst, (Cologne, 2001), pp. 133–57.
[15] See William Carlos Williams: Gedichte, Joachim Sartorius (ed.), (Munich, Vienna, 1998).