In what could be seen as the continued Starbucks-ification of Valencia Street, brick-and-mortar coffee purveyors Ritual Coffee Roasters recently pulled the work of photographer Varese Layzer. It was considered "too serious" for the cafe's walls. While neither visually offensive nor too harrowing at first glance, the exhibit centered around the death of a the artist's mother. Upon reading the artist's statement after the show went live, Ritual owner Eileen Hassi later stripped the walls of Layzer's art and sent her a gracious (albeit somewhat perplexing) letter of explanation, which was then posted to Layzer's Flickr account. Here's what the letter said:
My name is Eileen and I'm the owner of Ritual. It's too bad that I haven't actually met you, as this would probably make more sense if you knew me. I asked one of my employees to take down your artist statement when I was in the cafe on Sunday. I needed to leave directly to go up to an event I was running in Napa and was away for the rest of the weekend.
I know that you're upset and you're going to think I'm the bad guy in this situation, but allow me to explain my position: Your art is serious work. It's too serious for the cafe. It's dealing with real stuff, real emotions, loss, attachment, family, death. It belongs in a real gallery, where people are in a space to contemplate these things. The art that belongs in a cafe is fluffier stuff, stuff that doesn't make people think about the tough questions in life: pictures of telephone poles, birds sitting on the wires, tapestries of heavy metal lyrics. Whimsical stuff.
The curator made a mistake, I fired him. I want you to take you[r] shown down as soon as possible. I know that you put a great deal of effort into the show, so it's not a total loss for you, I'd like to offer you $300. I have a great deal of respect for your work, and would not put it in jeopardy, it's just not the right art for the space. Your artist's statement is safe, just tucked away. It was just too intense for people looking for escapism with their coffee. I have another show ready to go, so please let me know when you'll be taking the show down.
Like I said, it should be in a gallery, where you can have a real opening, with wine and cheese. My boyfriend has a gallery -- give him a call -- [number redacted]. I have another friend who just took over a gallery space on 6th Street as well and is looking for work to show.
Like I said, I'm sure you think I'm being the bad guy in this situation, but really no one should have led you to believe this belonged in a coffee shop.
Sure, it may seem odd to ban the work of an artist within the city's allegedly creative hotspot, but... it's her cafe. She can whatever she wants. Then again, the artist community is a fiercely loyal, not to mention vocal, gaggle. And any mention of "wine and cheese" in relation to their highly personal art is almost certain to make their blood simmer.
Following is the artist's statement:
In 2010, my mother died. As the last living member of my family, it fell on me to clear out the cluttered 1,100-square-foot rent-controlled apartment where I grew up and my parents had lived for 40 years. The process would take three months. During that time of work and grief, I also had to live there. I documented the process of making room for me at 5E.
After giving away thousands of pounds of belongings, I moved the remaining 4,000 pounds to a San Francisco storage space. Slowly, I made room to bring those objects into my world here: a painting, a clock, a lamp. I documented that process too.
Apartment 5E has since been bought and its walls demolished by a new owner. The objects and these pictures are all that remains.
Layzer's responds to the ban via her Flickr page:
The inflammatory work -- muted color pictures of furniture -- may be seen here: [link] . It consists of 11 professionally framed pieces and one artist statement. I asked permission about the work and the statement before I framed it and it was granted -- and a contract was signed by Ritual. It cost approximately $3,000 to create. When the show was found objectionable (as detailed above) I also offered to remove the statement, which was the only hint that the show was about "loss, attachment, family, death"
Opening in 2005 on Valencia Street, Ritual Coffee is one of several artisan roasters and cafes that have gained popularity with many foodies, along Blue Bottle and Philz. Their seemingly creative patrons are typically seen furiously typing away on laptops and iPads. And drinking the admittedly divine brew. (It's that good.) Very much a Mission experience.
What do you think, readers?