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. 


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