The Cafe

Collecting Drama - Hedreen Gallery, Lee Center for the Arts, Seattle, WA


The Cafe

SHOWstudio, Bruton Place, London


Artist: 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.
Medium: Mixed
Run of show: Autumn 2011
Venue: SHOWstudio, Bruton Place, London

For Autumn 2011, Nick Knight and Carrie Scott curated a show the aimed to literally recall the Cafe of days gone by.

Press Release:

The SHOWstudio Shop is pleased to present 'The Cafe,' an exhibition centred around coffee culture and cafe society in fine art, fashion and film. Open until 5 November 2011, the show features 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, we set out to examine society's enduring fascination with café culture. We unabashedly inject both gallery and coffee shop with an authentic sprit of creation through the inclusion of artworks that intrinsically take 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 we pack 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 provides quotidian, intimate perspectives on the zeitgeists they represent; together sculpture and portraiture create delicate vignettes of fleeting memories.

Similarly Stephen Lapthisophon and Franz West’s drawings gesture at ephemeral recollection. Sex, humour, and food - sometimes literally - mingle together in both artist’s compositions as visual allusions to raucous gatherings and moments. Where West’s materialise 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 captures another universal narrative. Painted with precision and displayed in a controlled grid that echoes the suffocating plight of his characters, Waller captures 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 stimulates 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 is no longer contained to our post code but is rather propelled into homes and offices across the world, innately expanding the site and notion of a coffee shop.


As always at SHOWstudio Shop, fashion is omnipotent. In this instance, contemporary luxury label Mother of Pearl have contributed significantly to the aura and buzz of our café environment. The innovative fashion house, created by Maia Norman, has 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 provide 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 permeates 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 explores how unbridled consumerism infiltrates the physiology of art. Creating highly keyed, decorative patterns from detritus of advertising, logos and brands, Milovanovich turns coffee tables into surrealist sculptures. In tandem, British milliner Piers Atkinson Autumn/Winter 2011 collection, ‘Paris’, takes 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 - pop 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 have 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 is 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 will infuse and transform the Café into something beyond a passive viewing space.

Inverting the public’s conventional perceptions of the Café to transform our gallery into a hub of sociability, artistic creation, and intellect, the question now remains, will the content of The Café be compelling? Beautiful? Engaging? And will it reveal something innate about our desire for cultural exchange? There's something to brew on…