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Photos: Brandon McGhee

Supreme Pinball, Takashi Murakami Pillows, Fake Food on Meat Hooks: Is This New Crop of Coffee Shops Cafe or Art?

By Oct 23, 2019 Arts


It's getting harder to tell these days. Pale concrete boxes with minimal furniture and industrial décor, typically on the street or inside residential complexes, featuring something thought-provoking, like a giant plushy bear or a rack of fake meat. An espresso machine lurks on the back counter, probably also made of concrete. 100% certainty that the menu will have a Flat White, but it's a coin-toss if single origins make an appearance. Two such ambiguous spots have gotten hot and trendy recently. Camus, which opened on October 1 and manages to throw a guesthouse into the equation, and Picnic Gallery, which also opened over the National Holidays. Have a dose of art with your morning joe.

Camus occupies a converted residential building, now a gallery slash café slash guesthouse. The first floor, extending into the backyard, hosts exhibitions from contemporary artists. The rest of the building has six designer guestrooms available on Airbnb for 800-1,000rmb per night. As the name suggests, this space metes out a strong dose of absurdity.

The October exhibition takes the form of plastic meat piled up on the floor, stacked together on a trolley or hanging on a rotating metal rack. It's all set to chillhop as a commentary on… something. The espresso machine hides behind the main gallery space, and they serve simple coffee drinks and trendy sippy drinks like Passion Fruit and Lemon Soda (30rmb).

Picnic Gallery is a more grandiose version of the gallery café - not size-wise, but in terms of the art pieces and installations.

A glittering Supreme pinball machine by the main entrance pulls in the brand-conscious, and right in the middle of the first floor is an authentic Takashi Murakami Plush Flowerball. The second floor features a collaborative piece by Takashi Murakami and MADSAKI, a Japanese-American urban artist working with Takashi’s gallery project Kaikai Kiki. In case the space didn't have enough net buzzy features, there’s also a giant fragrant candle from the internet-famous niche New York brand Le Labo.

Their seasonal special “Autumn," a persimmon drink for 40rmb, comes with a real persimmon on a Japanese-style porcelain plate. Highly, highly photographable.

Both places are receiving a good amount of foot traffic because of some internet buzz. Just as planned. On an early weekday afternoon, both places had multiple groups of people spending a lot of time taking selfies and photos.

They are not the first ones to combine a gallery with a boutique café; FiuFiu on Yuyuan Lu has been running for almost a year now, and they've got a special pop-up on COMME des GARCONS, with Belgian collector Octavius La Rosa from dot COMME (Oct 19-27).

As almost every street corner in Shanghai becomes occupied by a café and success comes to mean maintaining the selfie hype, shop owners are going to keep coming up with new ways to bring in the image conscious. Without attempting to answer the question “are these things art?" I'll say these places are worth visiting at least once.



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