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Food For Thought – Artists Take Over Restaurants

June 30, 2016

ArtsGroup Exhibition | by Harry Seymour

Even if you are interested in art, or even really interested in art, it does not necessarily mean you want to spend every spare minute of your time traipsing around a museum exhibition that you feel you ought to see because everyone else is raving about it.

We often go to things that we think we should go to because there is a certain power trust up in knowledge. Being regarded as the go-to fount of all things germinates a subtle feeling of cultural and intellectual sophistication, authority, or indeed in some cases superiority. This intangible yet enviable asset is widely referred to as ‘cultural capital’, and was first articulated by French sociologist, Pierre Bourdieu in Cultural Reproduction and Social Reproduction, 1977. In simplistic terms, cultural capital is a non-financial social asset that promotes social mobility beyond economic means. Education, sporting ability, dress, cultural awareness and manner of speech are all indicators of our ‘cultural capital’.

Museums and galleries, as spaces dedicated to displaying things of historic and cultural significance, are traditional contributors to cultural capital. Yet a recent trend to incorporate works of art into other leisured spaces breaks down this traditional ideal of Art as something to be intellectually and economically valued and really emphasises its status as something to just be enjoyed. The artist-conceived hotel and restaurant are clear examples of this trend.

Sketch Restaurant, Mayfair, London.
Sketch Restaurant, Mayfair, London.

Since opening its doors in 2002, sketch Mayfair has remained one of London’s most iconic artist-conceived restaurants. With the main restaurant’s 239 original David Shrigley drawings, bubble-gum pink furniture and Michelin starred food by French chef, Pierre Gagnaire, you are immediately struck by the self-conscious status of the curated interiors. Yet sketch is renowned for its food and drink as much as it is its sumptuous interiors, making a visit there an all encompassing multi-sensory experience.

Sketch Restaurant, Mayfair, London.
Sketch Restaurant, Mayfair, London.

Hix Mayfair, located in the heart of Brown’s Hotel, is another of London’s top artist-conceived restaurants. The atmosphere is more subdued and traditional here, attracting a less flashy yet sophisticated crowd. An innovative hang in the main dining room sees a Neon sign by Tracey Emin juxtaposed with more traditional works by other renowned British artists such as Bridget Riley and Keith Coventry. The striking contrast between classic and contemporary in Hix is made all the clearer by the restaurant’s backdrop of original eighteenth-century wood panelling. A white port and tonic, concocted with Tonnix Port from Quinta de la Rosa, whose iconic label was designed by Tracey Emin especially for the Hix emporium, or the Artini, one of the Donovan Bar’s newly inspired BLAW (Brown’s London Art Weekend 1-3rd July 2016) cocktails comes highly recommended.

His Mayfair. Adrian Houston.
Hix Mayfair. Adrian Houston.

If you are prepared to meander slightly off the beaten track, the Artist Residence in Pimlico is well worth the effort. Not pretentious or super swanky, the interior spaces, which include a boutique hotel, restaurant, bar, café area and private dining room, are instead elegant, tasteful and curated in a way that makes you feel completely at home. The art on the café walls upstairs is meticulously chosen by owners and interior-design power duo Charlotte and Justin. Downstairs boasts a temporary exhibition space, which exhibits works by artists represented by Lawrence Alkin Gallery in Soho. While the original Artist Residence in Brighton (there is also an Artist Residence in Penzance with one shortly to open in Bristol) is quite the bohemian hang-out – it used to literally house contemporary artists in exchange for their decorative skills or a helping hand in the restaurant – the London branch is rather more sophisticated and is now a real local-hotspot attracting those with an eye for a visually inspiring and aesthetically pleasing interior.

The Artini, a cocktail created for Brown's London Art Weekend 2016.
The Artini, a cocktail created for Brown’s London Art Weekend 2016.

With artist-conceived restaurants, hotels and bars all over London, a quick cultural fix has never been easier. When it comes down to it, art is just something to look at, live with and take pleasure in. If you strip back the academic methodologies that surround art history, you are left with physical things, that yes, do inform us about ideals, cultures, histories, stories and whatever else it may be, but also just represent the beauty of creativity.

Artist Residence, Pimlico, London.
Artist Residence, Pimlico, London.

The art lining the walls of the cafes participating in Café Art’s charitable initiative all across London is arguably the most beautiful of all. Crafted by the hands of the homeless, these artworks are objects to be handled with care, not because of their brand-name, their material value, or their provenance, but because they represent hope, an honest wage and a means of social reintegration. All I am saying is think twice before hitting up the next museum exhibition and maybe try somewhere new. Art is literally all around us you just need to look for it.

By Lucy Scovell