“It’s going to be a floating cube in the middle of the space,” MonkeyTown founder Montgomery Knott told me breathlessly. He was describing MonkeyTown 3.0, a video-curation project that invites viewers to dine while watching art. After seven years at an on again-off again venue in Williamsburg, Knott’s project will now take over Eyebeam every summer evening beginning June 13.
For those of us who fondly remember the old venue, this is good news. MonkeyTown has many extraordinary qualities but perhaps the most obvious is the stellar production. An 8.1 surround-sound system combined with four 16-foot walls and food service doesn’t exist anywhere else in the city. (This time, chefs include those from Roberta’s, La Superior, Nha Toi, and Gramercy Tavern.)
MonkeyTown is also renowned for its curation. Knott’s “best of” video program, which he has cocurated with Maggie Lee, will feature 21 videos. The centerpiece, Knott says, will be Eve Sussman and Simon Lee’s 12-minute recreation of an artwork by Jack + Leigh Ruby, whose art—selling insurance scams—took them to jail in the 1970s.
What will MonkeyTown 3.0 look like?
We’re going to have a really basic kitchen. The actual cube is now totally closed. It’s all going to be seamless and protected. It’s going to be bigger this time: 19 ft. vs. the old 12 ft. During the day, Eyebeam will be active. It will be dark. Blackness. No spotlight; just lit by the projections. There will be candles on the table.
I like the way you broke down the ticket price on the website: $80 = $5 admission + $45 food + $20 drinks + $10 tip. It's important, because $80 seems like a lot.
It’s true, but it’s a bargain; $80 sounds like a lot to me because I’ve been poor for the last two years. Before coming here right now, I sold clothing to pay for the envelopes I needed to send out invitations tomorrow. That’s how poor I am. So I wanted it to be accessible, one night where we probably weren’t making much money at all. That’s the $45 night [on Sundays].
Have the chefs seen the artwork?
I said to all of them that the whole point is the video and the art. Food is there almost to sell the video. It should be awesome and tasty and wonderful, but I don’t want any crazy platings or whatever. It should be unpretentious plating.
You don’t want the food to compete with the art.
Exactly. I said, there can be one intervention between the food and what you’re seeing. But it can only happen once, because if it happens twice, it gets too precious.
So, why this year?
It was two years ago, within six months of MonkeyTown closing, that I had the idea that maybe I would do it again in some other way. [Graphic designer] Phillip Niemeyer helped me put together a scale model of what this project would look like. It’s actually in the trailer. During the three-month residency in France, I finished my film. I knew from the minute I got back in September that I just had to hustle to get something ready for this summer. And Eyebeam became a perfect fit, and they were super psyched. They’re not charging me rent; they’re just taking a cut of the revenue.
How important is it that people be quiet?
I’m going to be there every night, and I’m going to make an announcement. I’m not going to say don’t do this or don’t that, but this isn’t a party. I don’t want to control the audience, and I think it’s fine for there to be horrible nights where someone gets drunk and dominates. I’m used to that sort of failure.