Ritual Coffee puts a bird on it (UPDATED)

Pop quiz: which one makes you thirsty?

San Francisco blogosphere has found a fun new obsession: the removal of an artist's work from Ritual Roasters because it dealt with “real stuff.” It has all the elements of 2010s Mission District drama: dispute over the bounds of creativity, third wave coffee, and Chicken John Rinaldi, whose name people really enjoy typing, over and over again.  

So let's type it again! The Guardian spoke on the phone with Rinaldi – whose partner Eileen Hassi owns Ritual -- this morning after rumors that he had been behind the early removal of Varese Layzer's “Making Room” photography exhibition, and had engineered the space's replacement.  On the phone, he said he'd never met Layzer, but that “we were promised work and she gave us different work. No one's writing about that, or that she yelled at the baristas.”

Here's what happened, in a nutshell: a photography exhibit was removed from Ritual Roasters. Hassi sent an email telling artist Layzer her art was "too serious," but that hey, she's got some gallerist friends, here's their phone numbers. Chicken John announced on Facebook that the subsequent replacement of the work with friend Julian Cash's Burning Man photography was “just that simple.” We are intrigued.

“Someone is using this for publicity – and I kind of admire them for it,” Chicken said, referring to his own penchant to play with the press for fun and profit.  

“I don't really see the need to go into this anymore. We're too busy, we're too smart, we're too good looking. I'm having a nice day, I hope you are too.”

Not very surprisingly Layzer, who discovered her artist statement missing from the wall of Ritual on Sunday before the whole shebang came tumbling down, says she doesn't understand why the art was removed. “I suspect the owner didn't like a statement being on the wall and it made her dislike me,” the artist wrote in an email to the Guardian. Layzer tells us that she expressly asked permission to post a statement and  that the coffeeshop told her “'It's your show. Go for it.'”

The art in question was photo documentation of Layzer's deceased parents' rent-controlled apartment before it was “bought and demolished,” according to the offensively depressing artist's statement that was putting people off their americanos. Though she was “devastated. I screamed and wept,” when she heard the work had been de-walled, Layzer says “it means a lot to me that they were public in a physical form, however briefly.”

The photos now on the wall are from Julian Cash's book The People of Burning Man. They're not exactly the “pictures of telephone poles, birds sitting on the wires, tapestries of heavy metal lyrics,” that Hassi wrote to Layzer as being more appropriate to decorate a cafe – though they certainly qualify as her other descriptor: “whimsical stuff.”

His are portraits from the playa of freaky, body-painted and well-adorned Burners. Cash sets up an improbably-white studio at Black Rock City and encourages subjects to express themselves as they see fit. Ironically, some of the expressions that made their way to Ritual touch upon strife in the Middle East, a man literally drowning in his suit-bound life, a man protesting credit card debt by faux-inserting them into his bald scalp, faux (?) blood dripping everywhere. 

In a recent statement published on his website, Cash seems happy that his newly-released book has been thrust into the spotlight. “I am almost delighted to be told that my work is "fluffy" but I'm uncertain as to why. I think I have a reputation as someone who is respectful to his subjects and thrives on collaboration. I certainly believe in the value of fun, and that if you live a life where you are not regularly feeling joy, you are doing it wrong.” (You can read Cash's complete take on the matter here)

So maybe Layzer was just a jerk to someone's employees, and maybe she switched up the content of her show and exacerbated relationships. Maybe the folks at Ritual Roasters just wanted another artist. The event as a sign that Valencia Street continues to be Valencia-ized – well that's too obvious to write a blog post about these days. Maybe it's indicative of the hippie-punk back and forth that seems to drive this city culturally. 

Or maybe we just need to grab our coffee and head outside. Look, sunshine!

Update: In response to the yelling allegations, Varese had this to say:

No way! It's very possible that some loyal friends of mine came in and yelled at the baristas. People were very upset for me. But I bet I wasn't even in SF when this yelling of mine occurred. The last time I talked to a barista at Ritual I had work on the walls and were asking if my business cards were still on the counter or some such relatively unimportant matter - and also I asked did anyone know where the statement had gone. Then I stormed out, phoning the curator on the way and crying on the phone. I guess the whole story is about an artist and a cafe hating each other? I'd be sorry to see that but I suppose it doesn't really matter.

Okay, now weekend. 



I did not "switch up" anything. I did ask for my business cards in a haughty and perhaps bitchy manner, and I stand by that, my only public reaction to having my contracted work torn down without even a phone call. They did not cry, however -- why would that make them cry? I'm sorry to say that almost the full content of the interview I gave to Caitlin, the author of this piece, was disregarded.

Posted by Varese Layzer on Aug. 01, 2011 @ 3:33 pm

RE: yelling allegations

Yes of course you were not physically present when the baristas were yelled at by a dramatic artist. You might think that you were "just asking" where your business cards had gone but maybe you should think, "Was I asking this employee in a totally bitchy and haughty manner something so trivial?"

The whole story, as you put it, is probably more about a ridiculous artist not delivering what had been agreed upon and flipping out when the owner was not pleased with the switch. Oh and maybe also the fact that it is her business and her employees being harassed so she can do as she pleases with HER space.

Get over yourself.

Posted by GUEST on Jul. 06, 2011 @ 4:20 pm

Edward Albee said, "All serious art is being destroyed by commerce. Most people don't want art to be disturbing. They want it to be escapist. I don't think art should be escapist. That's a waste of time."

I suppose he was referring to Valencia Street hipsters and their overpriced coffee drinks.

Posted by Guest on Jul. 01, 2011 @ 12:54 pm

Chicken John is the Charlie Sheen of the San Francisco Narcissist Community.

Posted by Guest on Jul. 01, 2011 @ 7:23 am

"So maybe Layzer was just a jerk to someone's employees, and maybe she switched up the content of her show and exacerbated relationships."

or maybe Chicken John is still a liar. And maybe the SFBG should examine their editorial bent towards support of Chicken John and Eileen Hassi and their desire to drive the working class out of the Mission for the enrichment of their pocketbooks. This obviously slanted article proves what brand of coffee is served at the SFBG corporate building.

Posted by therealmission on Jun. 30, 2011 @ 8:48 pm

I think the article is a comment on a controversy stirred up by a drama queen who quoted her rejection letter like it was Gospel. Does anyone but her believe that bullcrap saying she was rejected for being "real gallery" quality? She was asked to put up a selection of landscapes and while the owner was out of town, she instead installed all these interior shots of household objects. A dog, and a bed, and some suitcases. Then she yelled at all the baristas. The workers there got pissed and The Cafe offered her $300 and a total hand job of a rejection letter just to go away.

Posted by Stickler_12 on Jun. 30, 2011 @ 4:11 pm

Good to know the SFBG isn't missing an opportunity to get into the fake news game.

Posted by greg on Jun. 30, 2011 @ 1:06 pm


Posted by Guest on Jun. 30, 2011 @ 12:10 pm

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