SHOWstudio's exhibition, The Café, examined our enduring fascination with café coffee culture and cafe society in fine art, fashion and film. The show featured work by Piers Atkinson, Gyula Halász BrassaÏ, Diem Chau, Robert Doisneau, Emil Hoppe, Nick Knight, Terence Koh, Stephen Lapthisophon, Steven Meisel, Misha Milovanovich, Mother Of Pearl, Vincent Ramos, Rebecca & Mike, Tim Roda, Keith Tyson, Ed Van Der Elsken, Luke Waller, Franz West, Morgan White and others.
Coffee shops have become mundane, monotonous spaces in modern society; one on every corner, each no different than the one before. Indeed, a coffee shop circa 2011 seems entirely removed from its nineteenth-century ancestors - the havens that inspired artists and played host to revolutionary intellectual interactions both literary and literal. At their core, however, and given their enduring popularity, cafés obviously retain their draw as romanticised sites of inspirational exchange. But why? By exploding both the architecture of the traditional gallery and by challenging today’s incarnation of the coffee shop, SHOWstudio set out to examine society's enduring fascination with café culture. We unabashedly injected both gallery and coffee shop with an authentic sprit of creation through the inclusion of artworks that intrinsically took up the subject of community, shared intellect and the café at their core while also transforming our space into an actual coffee shop.
On a single wall, curator Carrie Scott, packed some of the iconic black and white photographs that have come to romanticise our vision of the café including works by Gyula Halász BrassaÏ, Robert Doisneau, Emil Hoppe, Nick Knight, Steven Meisel, Tim Roda, Ed Van Der Elsken and Morgan White. Intermingled between Diem Chau’s intricate, porcelain-based sculptures, the imagery provided quotidian, intimate perspectives on the zeitgeists they represented; together sculpture and portraiture created delicate vignettes of fleeting memories.
Similarly Stephen Lapthisophon and Franz West’s drawings gestured at ephemeral recollection. Sex, humour, and food - sometimes literally - mingled together in both artist’s compositions as visual allusions to raucous gatherings and moments. Where West’s materialised from meetings staged by the Vienna Actionists and other artist gatherings, Lapthisphon, a practicing artist who is legally blind, accumulates and collects layers of meaning and associations in his work to capture a memory of sight.
Luke Waller’s 9-panel polyptych captured another universal narrative. Painted with precision and displayed in a controlled grid that echoes the suffocating plight of his characters, Waller captured two lovers in freeze-frame as they fight outside a LA café in the truthful early morning light after an evening of indiscretion.
Vincent Ramos and Nick Knight give us two distinct sound tracks to propel the exhibition. In Ramos’ installation we hear what feels like a love letter, haltingly translated from French into English, being read from the clamour of a café. As we listen, there’s a ghostly desire to reconnect with the past and the history of the letter, which was actually written in the 70s from the artist Jean Tinguely to curator Pontus Hultén. In contrast, Knight’s piece busily stimulated with the sounds of guests enjoying and engaging in conversation as they enjoy coffee at our Bruton Place headquarters. Then streamed live on SHOWstudio.com, their discourse was no longer contained to our post code but was rather propelled into homes and offices across the world, innately expanding the site and very notion of a coffee shop.
As always at SHOWstudio Shop, fashion is omnipotent. In this instance, contemporary luxury label Mother of Pearl contributed significantly to the aura and buzz of our café environment. The innovative fashion house, created by Maia Norman, collaborated with Keith Tyson to fabricate a unique collection - featuring products ranging from crockery and tablecloths exclusively made for SHOWstudio, to quilted linings and leather raincoats. Vibrant colours teamed with strong prints provided a punchy counterpoint to the clean silhouettes and practicality of this luxe-sports collection.
From his coffee cup to his canvas to his concentrated collaboration with the innovative fashion house Mother of Pearl, the abstruse logic behind Tyson's practice permeated The Café. Invoking disciplines such as astronomy and quantum physics, his pieces visually evoke intellectual dialogue. Not only do they investigate how and why things come into being, but Tyson’s work also questions the creation of the artwork itself, pushing the boundaries of how art is generated as well as exploring the very nature of what art is; in the clothes we are forced to ask if art is wearable, in the cups we wonder if it is usable, in the canvas we question how a system can compose.
Misha Milovanovich similarly explored how unbridled consumerism infiltrates the physiology of art. Creating highly keyed, decorative patterns from detritus of advertising, logos and brands, Milo-vanovich turns coffee tables into surrealist sculptures. In tandem, British milliner Piers Atkinson Autumn/Winter 2011 collection, ‘Paris’, took inspiration from dark Parisian cafés, showgirls, cabaret and the like. Made exclusively for the SHOWstudio Shop, hats adorned with the word 'Café' - rendered in reflective perspex and glowing neon to evoke those ever-iconic images of la cité de lumiere - popped up throughout.
In addition to displayed work, SHOWstudio Shop took the idea of the daily routine and constant renewal that the coffee shop represents as a key motif, the inspiration behind commissioning new and exciting work throughout the exhibition. We invited artists and designers – from Terence Koh to Stephen Jones – to come to our Bruton Place headquarters throughout the exhibition to have a cup of coffee, draw on napkins and generally engage with one another while their activity was streamed online via Knight's piece. Born out of an interest to activate the space with actual creation, rather than leaving the gallery as a typically quiet space, these artist sessions infused and transformed the Café into something beyond a passive viewing space.