Food and art have a long, intertwined history. But the act of serving a meal has also proved an appealing medium for what some artists call “social sculpture.” The term, introduced by Joseph Beuys, means cooperative art, events, or “happenings” in which the audience or venue becomes part of the artwork itself.

This weekend, New Langton Arts in San Francisco presents a social sculpture called “OPEN Restaurant,” in which Chez Panisse’s Jerome Waag and Sam White coordinate a three-course meal served by artists, farmers, and educators. Set up in an industrial warehouse, the meal opens with a dirt tasting by artist Laura Parker. Diners will sniff dirt samples and then taste vegetables grown in said soil.

The regular restaurant-goer might well ask, “Aren’t all well-prepared meals ‘art’? And aren’t many waitpeople artists?” Most of the restaurants-as-art projects seem to rotate around these questions. In 1971, Gordon Matta-Clark created a restaurant in New York called Food completely staffed and run by artists. And Bay Area artist Tom Marioni created Café Society in the 1970s, a “social artwork” that involved drinking beer with his friends (the work’s title was The Act of Drinking Beer with Friends Is the Highest Form of Art).

Last year’s LIVE Biennale in Vancouver featured a series of meals across the city hosted by performance artists, which aimed to “emphasize the performative nature of not only social gatherings, but also other social practices such as negotiation, friendship, service, networking, competitions, and civil affairs.” And Amsterdam-based artist Debra Solomon has been creating conceptual meals for years, including Dinner for Geese and a citywide picnic.

Is this art? Is it fine dining? It blurs the lines, and that’s always good for dinner conversation.

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