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My First Piece of Art: Wolfgang Puck

The chef who redefined California cuisine—and whose first New York restaurant opens this summer—explains how his dining rooms end up looking like museums

I’ve had artists in my life since the early 1980s at Spago. That’s when I met Andy Warhol—he did our menus and wine labels—and also when I became friends with Robert Rauschenberg. 

When I first opened CUT in Beverly Hills, I was looking for an L.A. artist who could do some great work. The restaurant was designed by Richard Meier, who did everything in white—it already looked like a gallery. A friend recommended John Baldessari, so we met one day and got along from the start. We started working on this project, which basically became a Baldessari museum at the restaurant; he did nine pieces! He used pictures of Studio 54 that he took from a magazine to make these paintings, but they look very modern. John and my wife, Gelila, measured the walls, and he made these things specifically for us. It was like going to the tailor and having a suit made. We still have six at the restaurant and now three are at home. 

We always have good art in our places—it’s a big part of the experience for me. Not everybody appreciates it, but I think it’s a good thing. I used to have an Ed Ruscha painting, and one customer told me it was too dark. I tried to explain to her who Ruscha was, and she continued to give me a hard time. I told her she knew nothing about art and that we shouldn’t speak anymore.

Now CUT is finally coming to New York. For years I said that I wouldn’t, that L.A. was big enough. But then the right situation came along—at 99 Church Street in Tribeca—and it seemed like the time to try. I want to get John to do one new piece for the restaurant. Will it work out? Only if I can afford it. His work is getting expensive, but maybe I can make a deal.”