You are admiring the artworks on the restaurant walls while enjoying your meal. By dessert, you can stand it no longer: “Waiter, I’ll have the bill and put that painting on it too.”
Sounds outlandish? More eateries here are catering to patrons’ appetites for art and design.
At newly opened Alpine diner Zott’s, for example, oil paintings by up-and- coming Russian artist Konstantin Sotnikov hang on the walls. The paintings make up his debut exhibition in Asia and are for sale.
Managing director Philipp von Pein, 36, tells Life! that at Zott’s, “they take their art seriously”. The restaurant’s featured artists and works are selected with care, he adds, meant as more than mere decoration on walls.
“We want them to provoke an emotional response in the viewer,” says Mr von Pein. “We believe art should leave a lasting impression and inspire.”
The fine dining restaurant in Amoy Street, which opened in March, is one of an increasing number of food and beverage joints doubling up as art galleries. At least five have cropped up in the last two years, such as SPRMRKT, Mad Nest, Artistry and new entrants Zott’s, Elffin & Elffin and Canvas, the last a nightclub slated to open at Upper Circular Road in July.
Mr von Pein, a German business partner of Zott’s German owner Christian Zott, believes that good art complements the food, and the dining experience is only as good as the ambience.
Those who are interested in collecting art can purchase Sotnikov’s pieces, which range in price from $5,000 to $50,000.
At Elffin & Elffin, a quaint gallery cafe in Haji Lane which opened in February, co-founder Rachel Seah, 21, gives space to the works of up-and-coming local artists such as Singapore-based, Vietnamese photographer Jade Mai and School of the Arts students.
Ms Seah graduated with a fashion degree from the Lasalle College of the Arts last month.
She decided to open a cafe six months ago. An informal street survey she did in Haji Lane, with her boyfriend and Elffin co-founder Ivan Loh, 26, convinced her that there was a demand for more local arts and crafts in cafes from young adults and tourists shopping in the area.
Ms Seah is a member of the Singapore Contemporary Young Artists, a society that generates interest in contemporary art by local artists through outreach programmes, and she says she is passionate about supporting young artists.
“There are not many outlets for local artists to showcase their works, so we want to be a platform for them,” she says. The cafe takes a cut of 10 per cent of every work sold – lower than most other galleries, whose commission can go up to 70 per cent, claims Ms Seah. Artworks are priced below $500.
Rotating exhibitions mean there is something new to look at every month.
The art-and-food concept is not new. Since 2010, similar outlets such as The Society Bistro in Mandarin Gallery, Nautilus Project in Ion shopping mall and Food #3 in Rowell Road have launched and closed.
Despite the vagaries of the business, Mr Mahen Nathan is not daunted. The art gallery-cum-night club, Canvas, which he co-owns, is expected to open in the middle of next month. Inspired by American pop-artist Andy Warhol’s The Factory in New York City, his studio and a hip hangout for quirky art folk in the 1960s, Canvas will be an art gallery by day and a club come nightfall.
The gallery, in Upper Circular Road, will showcase works from artists across genres, such as photography, sculpture and installation. Says Mr Nathan, 45: “As long as we are able to engage, entertain and keep our patrons happy, we are not worried. Competition doesn’t necessarily mean less business. Together, we can help to develop the market into a bigger pie for all.”
Curiously, the reverse concept does not seem as acceptable: few traditional art galleries are about to invite you to have a picnic or start selling snacks on its premises. Which leads one to wonder if food might be viewed as a distraction to the serious collector.
Happily, most gallery-eateries report positive customer feedback.
Mr Prashant Somosundram, 34, one of the three owners of Artistry, says that at least half of his patrons – the number of which ranges from 60 on weekdays to 150 on weekends – will check out the works on the cafe walls.
His gallery has showcased works by emerging artists, such as local painter Simon Ng, local photographers Jane Koh and Jeannie Ho and local design studio Chemistry.
Chemistry, for instance, put up an exhibition exploring Singapore’s food obsession through a mix of products, visuals and art pieces.
“Silent art galleries can be intimidating,” he says. “The casual setting of a cafe allows more interaction. People are less afraid to ask questions.”
Marketing and public relations manager Cheryl Lee frequents gallery restaurant Mad Nest in East Coast Road.
The two-year-old restaurant holds exhibitions by emerging local artists and designers. Shows change every three to six months.
“I’m always curious to see how Mad Nest uses the space because it is different every time,” says Ms Lee, 29.
Bank officer Choy Wen Han, who dines at Zott’s, says the artwork in the restaurant serves as a talking point during meals with art-lover friends.
“The animalistic and voodoo elements in the paintings make for interesting conversion fodder,” says Mr Choy, 37. Acknowledging that art displays in restaurants are not new, he praises Zott’s for its focused curation and efforts to bring in international artists.
He adds: “I like still life paintings and I’m tempted to buy one of Sotnikov’s, in which he depicted a hippopotamus in a bowl of soup. But at five figures, the price is a bit steep.”
Where: 97 Amoy Street, tel: 6223-0913, www.zotts.com.sg
Open: 11.30am to 2.30pm, 5.30pm to midnight (Monday to Friday); 5.30pm to midnight (Saturday), closed on Sunday
The fine dining restaurant, which opened in March, offers traditional and contemporary Alpine cuisine (food from the mountainous regions in Europe).
It also doubles up as a showcase for both emerging and established European artists.
Exhibitions rotate every three to six months. A bar on the second story of its Amoy Street shophouse premises is expected to open later this year.
Zott’s first art exhibition, which launched in March, also marks up-and-coming Russian artist Konstantin Sotnikov’s debut show in Asia, comprising nine paintings.
Sotnikov, 34, paints in the baroque style, adding a modern flourish to the sinister figures that often take centrestage in his work.
According to Zott’s managing director Philipp von Pein, 36, Sotnikov is very much sought after in Germany and Europe, having exhibited at many art fairs. His artworks are priced between $5,000 and $50,000.
Owned by Mr Christian Zott, chef Lorenz Maria Griesse helms the kitchen and his must-try dishes include Bouillabaisse Marseillaises, or fish broth with poached fish imported from the Alps and fennel ($87, for two to three people); Bondage Chicken – Bavarian style, which is roasted chicken seasoned with sweet paprika powder, curry and cayenne pepper ($36), and Kaiserschmarrn – Zott’s style, which is shredded pancake with pan-fried foie gras and pineapple-goose liver ice cream ($29 as a starter, $45 as main course).
Where: 378/380 East Coast Road, tel: 6348-6861, www.madnest.sg
Open: 4pm to 1am (Monday to Friday), 11 to 1am (Saturday, Sunday and public holiday)
The food at this two-year-old restaurant in East Coast owned by Jerome Wang, 33, is an eclectic mix. Three chefs, Mike Ho, Victor Ng and Peah run the Japanese, Argentine and Thai-Chinese kitchens, serving food such as Shiro Maguro Sashimi ($18), Mad Thai fried chicken ($20) and Mi Barrio beef burger ($20).
The art is similarly diverse. A curated exhibition of works by emerging local artists and designers changes every three to six months. The curation is a collaborative effort between Mad Nest and marketing consultancy firm Uniform.
Its previous show was a retail exhibition with local online retailers showcasing their fashion, craft and lifestyle products such as local, heritage-inspired knickknacks from When I Was Four, artisanal homeware products from Four & Twenty and handcrafted, knitted items from Hanana.
A food art exhibition, titled #EatDrinkArt, will run from June 18 till Sept 5. Fourteen works by 14 artists transform ordinary ingredients commonly found in the kitchen into pieces of art.
Works here are for sale. Prices for the #EatDrinkArt works will be revealed later, with proceeds going to The Business Times’ Budding Artists Fund.
Where: 2 McCallum Street, tel: 6221-2105, www.sprmrkt.com.sg
Open: 8am to 9pm (Monday to Friday); 9am to 4pm, Saturday; closed on public holidays
Owned by Sue-Shan Quek, 33, this two-year-old multi- concept bistro in the Central Business District serves food and sells groceries, household products and chinaware – alongside works by local artists.
A yet-untitled exhibition next month will feature acrylic paintings of the human body by Malaysian-born, Singapore-based legal counsel Jaen Ching Ng, 34.
SPRMRKT has also commissioned a piece from the artist, which expresses her thoughts about women and food. There will be about five to six works priced under $1,000. More information on the exhibition will be revealed later.
Chef Joseph Yeo helms the kitchen and his signature dishes include truffle fries with kelp and parmesan ($12); grilled chicken with Vietnamese noodles, peanuts and fish sauce wrap ($9); and herb-crusted fish and chips ($18). Some are available only on certain days, so it is best to check the day’s menu on www.sprmrkt.com.sg.
The bistro will close tomorrow for a minor refurbishment, reopening in about a fortnight. Check its Facebook page (facebook.com/ SPRMRKTfeatures) and Instagram account (sprmrkrtonphoto) for updates on reopening date and next exhibition launch.
Where: 17 Jalan Pinang, tel: 6298-2420, www.artistryspace.com
Open: 10am to 7pm (Tuesday to Sunday, closed on Monday)
This hybrid art gallery and cafe opened in 2012. Co-owners Prashant Somosundram, 34, and Marcel Heijnen, 49, aim to provide a platform for emerging artists here and abroad.
Besides putting up their debut and solo exhibitions, the venue can also host artists’ talks, events and performances after 7pm.
Netherlands-born Heijnen, who has lived in Singapore for 19 years, is a visual artist, designer and musician, and curates the shows.
Previous exhibitions include one on street and wall art by two French artists Adrien Boyer and Helene Abdeni, and a food art exhibition by local design studio Chemistry.
Homo-canis, an exhibition of Singapore-based, French photographer Clotilde Richalet’s works, will run from Tuesday to June 29.
Richalet, 34, overlays photos of dogs and their owners to create large, interesting images that examine man’s relationship with his canine friend.
The 14 photographs, printed on dibond (aluminium panels), measure 60 by 90cms. Each is priced at $1,450.
Food-wise, try chef Gerard Lewis’ crab burger (crab meat patty with herbs, served with squid ink buns and fries, $20); french toast stuffed with peanut butter and jelly, and topped with vanilla ice cream and mixed berries ($14); and duck confit pesto linguine ($16).
Elffin & Elffin
Where: 29 Haji Lane, tel: 9664-2665, elffinandelffin.co.nr
Open: 11.30am to 7pm (Tuesday); 11.30am to 8pm (Wednesday to Saturday); closed on Sunday, Monday and public holidays
This quaint shophouse cafe in Haji Lane was opened in February by Rachel Seah (below), 21, and Ivan Loh, 26.
The first and second floors display works by up-and-coming Singapore artists. There is also a write-up of the artist’s research and design process on the ground floor, and exhibits rotate monthly.
Ms Seah picks artists and works based on word-of-mouth and how the visuals complement the gallery space. So far, two exhibitions have been held at the cafe. The first was an illustration showcase by Lasalle College of the Arts design graduates Kenn Lam, 21, and Ahmad Fauzan, 21.
On the walls now: Singapore-based, Vietnamese photographer Jade Mai’s debut photography exhibition, Isolation, on until Monday.
Inspired by the works of two Americans, realist painter Edward Hopper and photographer Gregory Crewdson, 21-year-old Mai aims to portray fashion in a darker, unconventional style that challenges the glamorous images usually seen in the media. There are six prints, priced from $350 to $450.
The next exhibition by three students at the School of the Arts – Clarise Ong, Rachel Yin and Ryan Lee, all 17 – comprises illustrations and mixed media works, and is slated to open on June 27.
Mr Loh, who is a professional baker, runs the kitchen. His signature dishes include banana chocolate cake, red velvet cheesecake and blueberry cake ($6.90 each).
This article was first published on June 6, 2014.
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