Coffee, Tea, or Art?

Published on 31 March 2015

With art cafés sprouting up all over the island, you can now enjoy servings of culture with your latte.

Like a storm in a teacup, café culture has really taken off in Singapore. And now, it appears a new trend is brewing. Not content with just fortifying your being with delectable pastries and strong cuppas, these popular hangouts double-up as art galleries. Yup, you can now have your cake/eggs benedict/Waldorf salad with a side serve of art.

17 Jalan Pinang
tel: 6298-2420
Open daily except Monday

Tucked away in a corner shophouse in the heritage district of Kampong Glam, Artistry started out in 2012 as a gallery and performance space, morphing into a café later. “We incorporated F&B [food and beverage] into the premise because we wanted it to be more of a living space,” explains co-founder Prashant Somosundram, 35. Apart from visual arts, Artistry also prides itself as a platform for all artistic expression, including music and poetry. Their current exhibition, Occasians (on from now till 5 Apr), features four ceramicists’ unique take on tableware. “The more established galleries require artists of certain repute, but we aren’t solely interested in works with commercial value,” says Somosundram. “We wanted to create a space for emerging artists to showcase their works without huge overheads.”

At Artistry, friends and strangers alike sit around a long communal table in the middle of the café surrounded by art. This, says Somosundram, is a deliberate design feature that allows customers to walk around the exhibits without intruding on other customers’ space. We’re curious. Just who pops in for a cuppa and leaves with a piece of art? After all, some of these pieces cost upwards of $1,000. “Some customers come in for the food, happen to see a piece of art they like and end up purchasing it. Others come in specifically for the art and end up hanging out and having a cup of coffee. We’ve even had tourists passing through pick up something as a souvenir,” says Somosundram.

ART TO GO –  If it’s on the wall, it’s for sale. Customers are flanked by Artistry’s latest exhibition featuring the works of four ceramicists.  

33 Kampong Bahru Road
tel: 6222-4869
Open daily except Tue

At this cosy eatery along Kampong Bahru, you can order spam fries and buttermilk waffles with Mum’s oil on canvas. Accenting the industrial-chic design aesthetic of the Euro-Aussie diner are paintings by Leslie Goh, mother of the café’s 29-year-old co-owner, Ryan Tan. An interior stylist with her own interior business, Goh trained under renowned master artist Lim Kay Hiong and uses “Chinese brush painting influences in modern paintings”.

For now, Strangers’ Reunion only exhibits Goh’s works, although Tan has plans to include other artists in future. “We’ve been approached by artists, but my mum has hundreds of art pieces. I have to finish showing all of them first!” says Tan dutifully.

Tan also intends to incorporate a similar food-and-art concept to his next café venture. “Paintings complement the decor and add character, besides, it’s good for artists as it exposes their works to hundreds of people daily and helps get their name out there.” The proof is in the pudding. His mum has already sold five of her paintings at the café.

Family reunion –  Oil paintings by the cafe co-owner’s mum adorn the walls at Strangers’ Reunion. Photos –   Ki’ern Tan

378/380 East Coast Rd
tel: 6348-6861
Open daily

This multi-cuisine restaurant boasts a diverse menu that includes Japanese, North Indian and Italian-Asian grub. And if that’s not already a lot on their plate, Mad Nest also offers a platform for young, emerging artists to showcase their talents. To keep things fresh, the outfit has a constantly rotating line-up of artists producing works based on a given theme.

Art in bloom –  As a reminder of the fragility of nature, Mad Nest’s recent exhibition featured framed fresh bouquets left to wilt.

2 McCallum Street
tel: 6221-2105
Open daily

Shop for groceries in an art gallery? Do exactly that at this concept store melding food, retail and art under one roof. “The idea is nothing new,” says SPRMRKT director and co-founder Sue-Shan Quek, 29. “Showcasing art in non-traditional spaces such as cafés and bars has always existed in other major cities like London and New York. During a visit to Hong Kong’s Art Basel a couple of years ago, I experienced an interactive art installation that involved a pop-up speakeasy bar where drinking and eating were part of the performance.”

SPRMRKT’s latest exhibition, Tokyo Cinderella Dolls, documents the fantasy of two dolls wishing to be real. Curated by Galerie Steph, the photography exhibition was the Southeast Asian debut by Japanese photographer and artist Karin Shikata. Next on the menu for SPRMRKT is a series of three exhibitions (from now to 18 Aug) by children’s book illustrators CK Koh, Malavika PC and Khairul Azmir Shoib.

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