In name of art, California man dines with strangers (Reuters 5.4.05)
- In name of art, California man dines with strangers
By Sarah Tippit
LOS ANGELES - Attention citizens of the world: Would you like to
have dinner with a total stranger?
If so please call Marc Horowitz at 1-510-872-7326. The 28-year-old
conceptual artist from the San Francisco area not only wants to meet
you, he wants you to become part of his newest art project.
Horowitz began his "National Dinner Tour" last year as a way to
explore the idea of community among strangers. Since then he has
driven a leaky 1984 Toyota RV from the organic chicken farms of
southern California to the hallowed halls of Yale University, in
search of food and conversation -- which he documents on his Web
He'll eat anything in the name of art from burned burritos to fine
foie gras, although he told Reuters he is allergic to strawberries,
and that burned onions and "Hawaiian chili" have recently caused him
embarrassing gastric distress.
The project began when Horowitz, a former freelance photographer's
assistant for furniture chain Crate & Barrel, got bored while
setting up a shoot for the autumn 2004 catalog. A computer armoire
with a dry erase board attached to its door just begged to be
written on -- to make it look as if somebody really used the thing.
In a fateful burst of creativity, Horowitz scribbled a note: "dinner
w/marc" and he added his own phone number.
"I wanted to take people away from that commercial experience of
looking at something that wasn't real ... and offer them an
alternative," he said.
Horowitz's dinner invite slipped past company proofreaders and
appeared near the back of the catalog which was distributed
nationally. Then his phone began ringing.
"The calls started in the Midwest with a guy named Jake from Kansas
and fanned east and west from there. It has been such a bizarre
thing," he said.
Two weeks later Horowitz said he had logged about 300 messages. Due
to media exposure and word of mouth, the phone still rings and
Horowitz has stopped counting the calls that have poured in from
around the world. "The phone rings so much it's ridiculous. For a
while it was ringing four times a minute."
When his mailbox jammed up, he added his e-mail address. He
estimates the number of phone and e-mail messages from as far away
as Japan and Australia so far to be more than 16,000.
The armoire still can be seen in the catalog, but the phone number
has been etched out and no longer appears on the company's Web site.
A Crate & Barrel spokeswoman declined to comment.
HIS CUP OF TEA
University-level art training emboldened Horowitz to embark on a
series of conceptual art projects in San Francisco years ago. He has
run errands for strangers and shared lunch with strangers at his
favorite burrito stand. He also wheeled a coffee cart and a 1,300-
foot-long (396-meter-long) extension cord from his San Francisco
apartment down a hill to a public park, where he served cups of
coffee to strangers.
Although it happened by accident, the dinner project seemed a
natural extension of his earlier artistic work.
Surprisingly so far, nobody has had any objections to meeting him
for dinner. There have been no requests for references or criminal
background checks. Although he never stipulated that people were
required to feed him, all but one (Gino, an injured wrestler in
Bangor, Maine, who is down on his luck) have offered to provide a
"People do put an enormous amount of trust in me, a stranger, which
is promising in this country I think," he said.
There have been many interesting meals so far.
A group of Hispanic residents of San Juan Battista, California, not
only prepared a home-cooked Mexican feast, they put on a show for
He spent the night on an organic chicken farm in Los Lomos,
California. "The whole meal was organic. The salad was traded for at
the farmer's market that day. The whole thing was created with their
own hands. It was just excellent. I felt so healthy."
A motivational speaker in Santa Rosa, California, sent him on a
ropes course 60 feet in the air before serving him a meal of
linguine with scallops and shrimps. Horowitz said he was able to
conquer his fear of heights.
The conversations have been eclectic. In a Michigan bar, a man of
few words told Horowitz: "One man's landscaping is another man's
crime scene. I paused and said, 'Hey, that's great' ... and then we
had to go."
In San Diego, Horowitz, temporarily joined on his travels by two
male friends, was confronted by skinheads who accused the group of
being gay and proceeded to beat them up.
Horowitz, who escaped harm, ended up spending the night in hospital,
making sure his friends would recover. Afterwards the two men
returned home, leaving him to travel mostly alone.
Through phone, e-mail and his Web site, dinner invitations continue
pouring in from thousands of people, including nurses on late-night
shifts, a retired clam digger, lonely old women, and people
recovering from grave illnesses. Others include a minister who wants
to introduce Horowitz to Jesus Christ, a group of women who call
themselves "winches," and a woman who, after much soul searching
decided to scoop dog excrement for a living.
"I asked her if it was making her any money and she said no, not
really. To me, it seems like contemporary art in a way but who
knows," he said.