Taiwanese, b. 1964
The Dining Project, 1998–ongoing.
Participatory artwork performed at the Smart Museum of Art, February 13, February 14, April 30, May 1, and May 2, 2012; and installation including black beans, rice, tatami, wood, and video (color, sound, 1:15:25 hours).
Courtesy the artist and Lombard-Freid Projects, New York.
As a graduate student, artist Lee Mingwei put up posters around Yale University asking people interested in “sharing foods and introspective conversation” to contact him. Responses poured in and Lee hosted a series of one-on-one dinners with strangers. This simple action based in Lee’s sense of hospitality, desire for connection, and spirit of adventure evolved into The Dining Project (1998–ongoing), which has since been staged around the world. Generally guests are chosen by lottery, and Lee prepares the meal itself. He and each guest dine in the museum after hours within this installation, which he designed as a cross between minimal sculpture and Asian domestic architecture.
Lee takes the responsibility of tending to his guests’ needs seriously—inquiring after dietary needs and preparing the food himself. This attentiveness is crucial to all of Lee’s projects. The Dining Project led to a series of projects based on one-on-one interactions with strangers—sleeping next to each other, for instance, or taking a walking tour around a city. He remains engaged with questions of what it means to be hospitable within an institutional setting like a museum, how we come to trust one another, and how we try (and often fail) to satisfy our desire for intimacy.