But recently, the caliber of art seems to be on the rise. No longer can "coffee-shop art" be meant as a derogatory description. Artists frequently shown at well-respected art galleries are now also exhibiting in coffee shops.
"I like the idea of showing my work to audiences that typically don't visit art galleries," says painter Kathleen Markowitz, whose work is currently on view at The Wicked Redhead Café. Her work also has been in several group shows at the 1708 Gallery and will be featured this month at the Richmond Public Library. Clearly excited by the opportunity to exhibit in these settings, Markowitz says, "I like that people can mull over my work at leisure and appreciate the subtleties that require time."
Some will say that these venues reduce the impact of serious artwork, turning it into mere decoration. And an argument can certainty be made that not all art is best served by such casual presentation. But looking back into history, wasn't artwork originally tied to the community in which it was made? Picture the stained glass in the local church, the statutes of athletes and warriors, or the attention given to the architecture of local government and civic buildings. Perhaps art is finally coming full circle.
Local restaurant proprietors also are catching onto the trend. "Art helps to define your restaurant ... to create an overall dining experience," says Chris Chandler of Comfort, a new restaurant on Broad Street. Comfort exhibits popular local artists Andy Bality and Dave Moore. Other restaurants (Avenue 805, Joe's Inn and Zeus Gallery) have opted to act more like traditional galleries by displaying rotating art exhibits.
Art is also making its way into mainstream America: Barnes & Noble at Libbie Place has just announced that it will be joining the growing numbers of nontraditional venues and will feature local artists. Kicking off this program with an opening reception for Sterling Hundley on Friday, April 4, Barnes & Noble at Libbie Place will exhibit a different local artist every other month. Stacy Ricks, organizer of this program, says that Barnes & Noble's mission includes supporting education and the arts. "We feel that local art will draw people into the store, show them that we support the Richmond community and at the same time enhance the environment of our store." Ricks hopes that the program will eventually spread to other stores in the Richmond area.
Some people wonder if the public's reclamation of art is just a passing phase, or whether it reflects a more permanent shift in American culture.
In his book "After The End Of Art," internationally recognized art critic Arthur C. Danto predicts, "When art changes, the museum may fall away as the fundamental institution, and extramusial exhibitions, in which life and art are far more intertwined, may become the norm." And art definitely has changed. The postmodern artist, as well as the curator, finds it increasingly difficult to fit within the formal and historical constraints of art institutions.
What does it mean when Barnes & Noble, a pervasive national chain, takes down the sales-oriented posters in their cafés and replaces them with local artwork? To me, it is a sign that the 21st century has hope. It means that maybe, just maybe, we are moving away from the materialism and superficiality that our society has been so preoccupied with. This change could signify a turn toward humanity and self-awareness. And what better place for art to exist than the places in which we live?
Art is a reminder of who we are. As individuals, as a local community and as human beings. In no sense is viable art exclusive.
Danto puts it simply: "It belongs to everyone, as it should, being art." S
Guest writer Gwen Van Ostern is the gallery coordinator at 1708, the curator of the Cultural Arts Center at Glen Allen and the juror for the current exhibition at Shockoe Bottom Arts Center. If you're interested in submitting a piece to the Perspective column, please send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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