Celebrating Our City’s Alternative Art Venues…Just In Time for Biennial 2012

This year’s Liverpool Biennial Festival is fast approaching, and what better way to celebrate and prepare ourselves than by exploring the best of our city’s alternative and independent art galleries.

Whilst researching this article, I found that a few of the most interesting and innovative gallery spaces in the city are connected with food, and this prompted an investigation into whether food and art make for a successful collaboration. The idea of food being served in a gallery setting also ties in nicely with the theme of this year’s Biennial, which is ‘Hospitality’.

Speaking to Karen and Jazamin who curate Headspace at the Egg Café, (Newington, off Bold Street), I learnt that eating out and art can form a unique and entertaining combination. Headspace exhibits in an environment best known for its food, and so the art gallery is a happy coincidence that most customers simply stumble upon; its unexpectedness making for a pleasant and satisfying surprise. Being a regular at The Egg Café, I am familiar with the ever-changing exhibitions there, and so was pleased to hear that other customers were also passionate about the art on display. According to the Headspace duo, artists find commercial success and recognition from the collaborative café-gallery venue, largely due to its mixture of clientele.

The only foreseeable problem with art in a food venue, is the restrictions placed upon the artists who exhibit in terms of content: as a family-friendly space, The Egg Café cannot exhibit anything crude or adult, but on the whole this makes for a great atmosphere, with nothing to put you off your soup-of-the-day. Karen was able to relate to me just one occasion upon which a complaint was lodged: about a sculptural piece of a cows head, perceived as obscene, which was actually created by a vegan artist (many of the artists exhibited are vegan or vegetarian) and was intended to promote an animal-friendly message, and not elicit offence.

Liverpool-based artist Anna Di Scala, whose work focuses on the female form, is a painter well aware of the restrictions surrounding adult subjects in art when it comes to alternative gallery venues. Di Scala’s work is anything but crude, yet in an eatery, customers do not generally seem to appreciate nudity as art. In spite of this, Anna is responsible for the forever beautifully adorned walls at The Italian Club (Bold Street) and Bellini’s (Whitechapel), both restaurants which hold a special relevance for her as part of her Italian heritage. Being a chef as well as an artist, Di Scala represents the passionate marriage of the two, and her exhibitions at these venues largely prove that art and food can form a successful pairing. As a child, Di Scala was brought up in restaurants, so as well as acting as a lucrative business opportunity, her paintings give her the chance to return her art home by hanging in these eateries. Di Scala describes her work as ‘desirable, sensual, and pleasurable’ and these words struck me as strongly suggestive of cooking aromas, as well as brushstrokes.

Di Scala’s work has also appeared in one of my favourite alternative venues: St Luke’s (Bombed Out) Church, Berry Street, which is always a focal point for the Biennial. This exhibition sounded fantastic: a huge canvas, depicting Adam and Eve, hanging in a church transformed into the Garden of Eden. Could there be a more perfect, and significant way of displaying such a piece? Not in a stuffy white washed gallery that’s for sure. Di Scala admits that the venue has a huge impact on the reaction to her work, and so always takes an active role in selecting appropriate galleries, as well as curating her own exhibitions.

My personal favourite of the independent galleries in Liverpool has to be Domino, on Upper Newington, owned and curated by my dear friend Felicity Wren. Starting out at The Acorn, (now known as The Egg Café), this gallery has grown and changed over the years and at one point incorporated a café within the gallery. The Green Fish Café, housed within Domino attracted a new and varied clientele to appreciate the artwork, although this collaboration could not last forever. Sadly, food and art cannot always co-exist, as experienced here, and in the end the café stunted sales and general appreciation of the work on offer declined. Felicity grows annoyed when visitors drop in and enquire as to where the café has gone, and one can understand why: Domino has stood at its current address for 21 years, and during that time has exhibited some of the best work by local painters that the city has to offer.

During a time when the likes of the Tate and the Walker hold the biggest names in art, I urge readers to remember places like Domino, St Luke’s, and Headspace. It is important to experience art in new and innovative ways in order to reach different audiences, and smaller galleries are just that much more personal and intimate – who would turn down the opportunity to meet the artist themselves as well as the curator? And if that means having a bite to eat or something to drink whilst enjoying the work on the walls, then all the better surely?

These are just some of my favourite independent galleries, but for a comprehensive list visit www.artinliverpool.com

This review was written for Seven Streets and can be found here: http://www.sevenstreets.com/art-and-creativity/the-art-of-food-exhibitions-in-liverpool-cafes/

About teafortwotalk

Freelance writer @Pickwickmag @Corridor8 @Biennial / Editor @artinliverpool. Available for writing and copyediting.
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