FOR some people, when it comes to dining out, attention is not merely paid to the food and the environment. They are searching for something more — something that is artistic, whether in the dishes, the dishware, the menu or the decorations.
At the same time, contemporary artists are exploring more opportunities to display their artwork directly to the viewers — beyond simply holding exhibitions in galleries or museums.
Xu Chenyi, a post-1980s Shanghai contemporary painter, used to run a coffee shop on Shaoxing Road, an art and cultural street known for old architecture from the 1930s and a rich history such as its legendary resident, old Shanghai mafioso Du Yuesheng (1888-1951).
The coffee shop, Gracious Xibao, stood on the second floor of a small villa and featured Western-style afternoon tea and desserts. The cafe was closed several months ago due to a rental problem, but patrons keep returning because of the art salon that was held in the café and still remains.
Xu teaches oil painting and sketch basics. Her works were displayed on the walls as decorations and also for sale. “My initial thought to open a venue like this was to make friends interested in the arts,” the young artist says.
Clients liked the peaceful café, delicate hand-make chocolate cakes and coffee. So it’s natural that some stayed on for the art after becoming familiar with their teacher, Xu.
“It was beyond my expectation,” says Xu. “Combining art with a café or restaurant must be a trend in the future.”
Having spent a couple of years in Beijing, Xu says dining venues with artworks popped up in the capital city several years ago, mostly in art hubs like 798.
In Shanghai, such restaurants are starting to mushroom. Elite Restaurant & Lounge opened this month in Xuhui District. This Western cuisine restaurant, housed in a former photo gallery, uses a theme of image, film art and film post-production. Since it began operation, the venue has caught the eyes of trendy diners and art lovers.
In a basic cool-color tone, it has a brisk, simple design with graceful lines. The dining area features geometrical lines and unique wooden boards. Artworks by famous photographers line the gray walls, surrounding diners.
“The combination of art and dining is still fresh to people in this city, but they are accepting and following the trends quickly,” says Qian Kepeng, founder of Elite.
Qian, owner of the photo gallery, opened the restaurant after he met his partner, William Li, who could bring in fine cuisine, wine and cocktails.
One dessert, white chocolate mousse, is named “Sink.” The layout of each dish looks as beautiful as a picture and the melting hot chocolate sinks on the plate.
“People today are very picky,” Xu, the young artist, says. “They will not enter a dining place only for an enjoyable environment. The food and beverages should be quality as well.”
Elite is cooperating with OFOTO Studio to stage photo exhibitions. They held “Barren Palace — Feng Fangyu Photography Exhibition” in August. Ten of Feng’s works will be displayed for one month in Elite.
“We will keep hosting photographic artistic exhibitions every month. We would like to offer a stage for creative young photographers so as to draw more people’s attention to photographic art,” Qian says.
Artists are looking for more opportunities to display their works to a broader audience. Since museums and galleries have more requirements or limits for exhibition, collaborating with commercial venues seems like a good alternative for artists.
Among those, boutique hotels come into play. Shanghai Daily, teamed with Hong Kong-based art agency Llamart, recently staged an exhibition featuring contemporary art in a downtown boutique hotel.
In its first-ever art exhibition that opened last Friday, Shanghai Daily’s art project, Art Vision, invited 10 emerging contemporary artists from China and the West to showcase their works, from insightful oil and acrylic paintings to playful knitted sculptures and eye-opening multimedia installations.
People got to appreciate art in a more inviting and relaxing ambience, compared with those of spacious yet aloof, sometimes even maze-like exhibition halls.
“The reason that we choose to stage the show in a boutique hotel is that we want people to have a rather different way of enjoying art, to get connected to the artworks,” says Joyce Wu, editor-in-chief of Shanghai Daily. “In this case, art pieces can naturally integrate into the space in which we live, work or socialize, rather than hanging far away on a wall.
“Besides, people can have a better idea how the works look on the wall in their homes if they intend to make a purchase,” Wu adds.
The exhibition, “Wait a Moment,” runs through September 22 in CACHET Boutique Hotel on Nanjing Road W.
“To be honest, if you go to an exhibition, besides enjoying the artworks, would you prefer to take a seat and have a cup of coffee, and even eat something delicious?” says Xu. “The enjoyable feelings go together, from fantastic artworks as well as delicate food and beverages.”
Other restaurants in Shanghai are taking note. PizzaExpress (also known as Pizza Marzano), a successful Italian-style restaurant, has started to exhibit artworks. The eateries serve freshly cooked, thin crust Italian pizzas baked to order in their open kitchen. The menu also offers specially selected Italian wines.
The restaurant in Novel Place (Yong Xin Fang) displayed Shanghai-based French photographer Eric Leleu’s works. German photographer Michael Wolf, who lives and works in Hong Kong and Paris, cooperates with PizzaExpress at Shanghai Centre. Chinese photographer Jiang Zhi’s works can also be seen at the restaurants at 96 Plaza Restaurant in Pudong.
CACHET Boutique Hotel
Address: 931 Nanjing Rd W., near Taixing Rd
Contact email@example.com for more information.
Elite Restaurant & Lounge
Address: 2/F, 116 Nantangbang Rd, near Dapu Rd
Address: Level 1, 109 Xingeng Rd, near Tianyaoqiao Rd