Ritual Roasters and the art of banning art

Here’s what it looks like when Ritual Roasters realizes after the fact that the photo show you just opened there contains some mature themes and they decide to shut it down:

Quite a letter! Take a second to view the photos here, and you’ll be all WTF?

[via snapandgo]

UPDATE: SFist is calling this episode a sign of “the continued Starbucks-ification of Valencia Street.” Great. Read on.

122 Responses to “Ritual Roasters and the art of banning art”

  1. kiya says:

    Can somebody confirm the authenticity of this letter?
    Just wondering.. because after looking at the photos i’m a bit baffled.

    • Taca says:

      and are we sure THOSE are the pictures hanging? I didn’t even find the photos interesting, but that’s another story…

    • becca.book says:

      The pictures were up there last week when i went in. The artists statement says somehthing about how shes ‘meditating on the death of her mother’, and took the photos is the mission apartment where she grew up and her mother died. serious matters and unoffensive. Seems like Eileen knows her clientele though. escapism through coffee and a love of bird on wires (I have to admit, I have a tattoo of birds sitting on telephone wires… hah…she called me out)

      • J. Taylor says:

        When you ask an artist to take down their work – what you don’t say is “Because I don’t like it. Its lame & boring. You should quit.”

        What you say is
        “I had no idea the depth of your seriousness. Please, find some place worthy of your work. I am not deep enough to understand. My customers are philistines. We need to put a bird on it. Have a nice day, Picasso!”

        There’s a big difference between giving that kind of elaborate ego massage to an artist in a private email exchange, and really saying that pretentious shit in public. Ritual has never had birds on telephone wires – the shows have often been provacative – the artist is too deluded to understand that nobody is kicked to the curb for being too excellent and deep. FFS I can’t believe people posted this lotion-covered hand job of a letter and its being discussed as a BAN ON SERIOUS ART. Ugh.

  2. Andy says:

    Ya, the owner of ritual fucked up. Not only did she write a letter that makes her look really dumb and out of touch with her clientele (“a real opening with wine and cheese”? “I’m late for napa”? ugh, gross), but the photographs are completely 100% inoffensive, and I bet you only one out of one hundred people that go to ritual will even read the artist statement, and I’d bet you every single person that does, would just think “oh sad, that person lost his/her mother, oh look my latte is ready.”

    • Franklon says:

      absolutely correct!

    • The Hanger says:

      Nicely said. Plus she got the pronouns all wrong in describing herself.

    • Lynae says:

      Ummm…most art openings do indeed still have wine and cheese. And there’s a Ritual location in Napa. I don’t see what about this e-mail makes the author look dumb.

      I also think it’s incredibly sensational for the artist to claim her work was “banned” from Ritual. She was compensated for her time and effort. Her show was just ended early.

    • J. Taylor says:

      One Cafe refusing one show is not Piss Christ and the loss of NEA funding. I am not gonna cry for some drama mama with a collection of dreary fucking photos of inanimate objects

  3. why says:

    I for one am TOTALLY offended by these pics – they don’t seem to be on the right kinda paperstock and the mounting is horrendous

  4. GG says:

    I agree that this was sort of lame, but I’m a little alarmed at the piling-on upon the owner of Ritual. It’s photos in a coffee shop. The owner has a right to determine what art goes on her store’s walls. Hopefully in the future she will preview the art before it goes up, but it sounds like she delegated that job to someone she trusted. Maybe she could have handled it better, but I’m actually not sure what better action she could have taken after the fact if she really didn’t want the photos up. We all do things we might have done differently in retrospect, have a little compassion for your fellow humans, folks.

  5. kyre says:

    someone get this white lady some prozac.

  6. Turbo says:

    Those pictures are simplistically retarded and look like shit on any wallspace. Just because it has some story behind it doesn’t make it suck any less.
    The art curator that got fired deserved it for having bad taste.
    That being said, anyone who finds that offensive/serious is pretty retarded, and should mellow out.

    • Lynae says:

      THIS! If I were trying to let a crap artist down gently, I too would make up something polite like “your work is too serious for me.”

  7. The Tens says:

    Thank god. Hopefully she can get some Thomas Kinkade paintings up in there. It’s like he paints with light!

  8. Tom in SFCA says:

    I don’t get the vitriol directed at the cafe owner, and I laugh at the use of the word “banned” to describe this action. This business owner made a business decision she was clearly entitled to make. It may have been effected somewhat clumsily but so what? Ritual’s product is coffee and ambiance, not adroit business communications.

    • T-Bone says:

      You are completely correct. The owner does have full right to make that decision, and I have full right to find that decision ridiculous and as a result never give them business again. I also have the right to shit talk said business on the internet based on their decisions.

      Of course she has the “right” to remove them, but she should know that there are potential consequences to those actions.

      Personally, I can’t remember paying attention to any piece of art in any coffee shop in my entire life.

      • SFdoggy says:

        OK. So you think the business made a dumb decision but it doesn’t affect you because you don’t care about art in cafes. So your reaction is to boycott the business. Brilliant! I think you have proved that you are even dumber than the business and that your shit talk is just that.

    • 300baud says:

      Yeah, I’m mystified. Oh noze! Banned art! As if a cafe were some sort of serious curatorial venue, rather than a place where people go to have a pleasant cup of coffee.

      Freaking out about this doesn’t accomplish anything except to make coffeeshop owners much more careful about screening the art that they let in. Net result, more boring art.

      If you think this person’s art should be up somewhere, go rent a wall and hang it up. Or go buy a piece. But stop pretending that the main reason you patronize a cafe is to be challenged by the art.

    • cTo says:

      Yep, it was 100% her right. The backlash is because her business decision is apparently to load up the place with suburban-esque kitsch.

      I mean, I laughed at the coffee-hipsters when they started complaining that Ritual was becoming so mainstream, but now I kinda have to agree with them.

      • GG says:

        I didn’t stand up for the coffee-hipsters when they started complaining that Ritual was becoming mainstream, AND THEN THEY CAME FOR ME

  9. Jonboywalton says:

    Awesome marketing, suddenly I just have to go in there and have a look and maybe even buy a coffee.

  10. scum says:

    If I had a fixie and skinny jeans I would so be there.

  11. tacotron says:

    or just go to philz

  12. sc says:

    I would love to see random business emails by Eileen Hassi on the walls of Ritual. Her writing is always expressive, real, and clear: no bullshit. She’s an awesome writer and business person.

  13. porkbelly says:

    If Eileen is truly concerned about subjecting her patrons to anything unpleasant she should (first and foremost) reconsider who she is dating.

    • Mitchun says:

      Also, in the interest of not subjecting patrons to unpleasantries, she might want to learn how to properly roast beans. (Cheap shot? Maybe. But true).

      • Herr Doktor Professor Deth Vegetable says:

        I don’t go to Ritual because I don’t want to deal with the crowd-o-hipsters, but you’re full of crazy if you’re saying they don’t have good coffee. I love their coffee, and it is one of the few places in town where you can often find a decent selection of light roasts.

        • Mitchun says:

          Yeah, you’re right. 400 years of European and American coffee roasting knowledge doesn’t amount to shit! Sour, acidic coffee served with a sneer is the way to go.

          • Herr Doktor Professor Deth Vegetable says:

            Dunno what to tell you, except that no coffee I’ve ever gotten from Ritual has been either sour or acidic. As for service with a sneer, well, as I said, I don’t go to Ritual for prepared coffee, I only buy their beans.

    • Taca says:

      that is a personal attack. you are not cool!

  14. tack says:

    Why does anybody care about Ritual? It’s the cougar enclosure of the valencia zoo. Watch them through the window then move on to the next exhibit. I hear Summit has a bunch of silverback yuppies through august.

  15. Mitchun says:

    Maybe somebody should take a cue from her fraud boyfriend and go vomit in the middle of her shop.

  16. thanks says:

    ritual is great if you like artistic debates. four barrel is great if you like coffee.

  17. Jeremy Brooks says:

    Yes, it’s her little kingdom and she can decide what goes on the wall. However, once Ritual has entered into a contract with an artist, they need to honor that contract. It is really a stretch to call that offensive, even in the crybaby hippie overly PC environment of San Francisco.

  18. Required says:

    Advice: time to switch to decaf.

  19. Sweet T says:

    I’d like to see the artist statement referred to in the email. That’s what Ms. Hassi had a problem with, right? If, on the other hand, Ms. Hassi just thought that the pieces were shit, she should have just said so. Instead, she played to this “artist’s” ego with the whole “your work is just too deep and serious for my humble coffee shop” bit. Now you have some crap photographer running around San Francisco acting like the fact that she was “banned” from ritual is some kind of art cred.

    • Lynae says:

      I completely agree that it probably would have been best to just say their work was crap, but as a small business owner myself, and a self-proclaimed nice person, I would have a really hard time doing that, and would probably make up some bullshit story about how their work was just too sophisticated or something like that too.

  20. Carlos says:

    I expected to see something controversial and instead all I saw were boring photos. If I were the owner, I would have just told the artist to take the photos down because I simply didn’t like them for my cafe, as is the owner’s prerogative. No need to give a further explanation that will be more likely to generate negative controversy.

    Much ado about nothing!

  21. david says:

    Who wants to read an artist statement to begin with. I only do that to kill time if I get to an art show early. The chances of an artist statement being read at a cafe are even slimmer. And if this particular artist’s statement gets read, the reader isn’t going to tell people not to go to Ritual, they’ll probably just go “oh” and then continue gawking at the cute boy or girl they’ve had their eyes on.

    In other words: huge overreaction.

  22. Taking the day off from commenting so I can gobble cold medicine and watch The Giants kick The Cubbies’ butts. Glad to see you guys totally have this thing covered.

  23. TPK says:

    Jeremy Brooks hit the nail on the head. Ultimately though this is between the artist and the owner of Ritual and is really none of my business.

  24. Taca says:

    the pictures suck! she should just say that!!!
    you suck, get out of my business and have people blog about it so we both become famous!
    hahahahaha, so predictable!

  25. Stu says:

    I know where I’m taking my telephone pole and birds on wires photos now!

  26. James says:

    Put a bird on it!

  27. no.thanks. says:

    im gonna have to side with ritual on this.

    This should have never gone public.
    This has nothing to do with the yuppification of sf.


  28. Dave says:

    Add this to the “Reasons why People Hate San Francisco” files.
    We don’t like it when the art in our twee precious indie coffee roasters bums us out! Harumph!

  29. AttF says:

    There is a sickle & star logo/communism joke in there somewhere, but I’m too lazy to figure it out.

    Eileen sounds like a shitty boss….hire a curator to curate, then fire them for doing just that.

  30. scum says:

    I drink tea so I have no reason to be here.

  31. cjonesplay says:

    You should take the phone number of her boyfriend off of the letter, that’s really not appropriate

    • DvD says:

      Yeah- agreed. The rest of it is a non-story only put up because someone (ahem Brock) has a beef with Chicken John.

      • Allan Hough says:

        Erroneous! Brock has a chicken with Beef John.

      • Brock Keeling says:

        I have no beef with Chicken John, you mental giant.

        • DvD says:

          Brock, I’ve been reading you for 2 odd years now (and loving it). If how you respond to John is not having a beef then what is it? Civil disagreement? Better yet- don’t answer. It’s not worth it, I am probably wrong. I dig you both immensely.

          • Brock Keeling says:

            That’s all well and good, but very frustrating to read that I would go after someone (with whom I’ve no real beef) by attackung his partner. Gave me the shivers. That’s all.

    • SFitall says:

      That is a bad call, I have to say.

  32. rich says:

    Sound reasonable to me.
    What is the big deal?

  33. girl on the hill says:

    seagull manager. swoops in shits on everything and leaves a mess for everyone else to clean up. hmmm

  34. SFNative says:

    Much ado about nothing. While it may have been bad form to take down the show, it was certainly really bad form to release a personal correspondence.

    Remember before the internet? When people had boundaries. When they conducted personal business in private and didn’t feel the need to share every little disagreement with the world.

    While it seems unlikely any reasonable person would find the photos “unsuitable”, it is also just as unlikely that any reasonable person would think that this is censorship as opposed to a difference in personal aesthetics

  35. SFNative says:

    Actually, we defeated the Nazis, eliminated slavery, and got women the right to vote, long long long before the internet. Sadly, gay marriage has taken us a bit longer, but we’ll get there.

  36. mission vulture says:

    Now I’m confused because Eileen’s boyfriend Chicken John is all over Facebook saying the art had nothing to do with it and actually it was he who took down the art because the artist yelled at a barista.

    I guess he also fired the curator??

    • Ariel Dovas says:

      Here’s what he says on Facebook, FYI:

      ‘do you beleive that we took down the art because it was “too intense” for the cafe? Do you beleive every piece of shit idiotic nonsense on the web? You might be disappointed by the art that was taken down. But if you really want to look at it, you can easily find it.’

  37. mission vulture says:

    Here’s what he facebooked me before he deleted…

    John Rinaldi
    I dont’ see why that’s so odd… I think that art that goes in cafe’s should be fluffy. Photo journal of childrens’ body parts from Iraq? Paintings of nazi’s? Sculptures made of shit and piss? Don’t belong in a cafe. Photos of people having the time of their lives at Burning Man? Much better. Fluffier stuff. Fluffy, like soft. Easy. Not angular or hard. Or cutting. Comfy. You want a cafe to be easy. Who wants serious art displayed with people having business meetings and first dates and on and on. SF is the City of Art and Innovation. That phraze has escaped my lips thousands of times. I tirelessly advocate for artists and am constantly juggling activism. Why would that be odd to you? This isn’t an art issue, this is a communication and drama issue. No one is against art here…
    about a minute ago · Like

    Hazy Cerements ‎”The city of fluffy art and innovation.”
    a few seconds ago · Like

    John Rinaldi Oh, you really got me on that one. Yup. You’re the winner of this debate.
    a few seconds ago · Like


    • DvD says:

      Does this mean I was a little bit right? This story was a complete fiction seized upon by people because of Chicken? Maybe not you directly Brock but I mean if what John says is true- where was the fact checking? Why all the glee over the ‘outing’ of the owner as some sort of crazy person?

      So many questions.

      • Matthew says:

        As long as the original email is authentic (is anyone disputing this yet?), I think the real story remains—which is the silliness of claiming that art in coffee shops shouldn’t provoke thought. This is a claim that John Rinaldi is certainly not disputing.

        • Lynae says:

          Actually, I think that the real story is that a particular artist is a sore loser and attempted to create a negative publicity campaign against Ritual in order to promote their own art. In the SFist comments the artist actually says that what she really wants to get out of this whole thing is for more people to buy her art.

          • GG says:

            Disagree. The real story is that we all would rather spend our time writing and responding to comments on Mission Mission than working. Or maybe that’s just me.

          • ken y says:

            the best part of this so-called negative publicity campaign is how the artist managed to get Ms. Hassi or whatever to come up with copy that’s so condescending towards her customers’ tastes in art, while, at the same time, insulting to the artists whose work appears in her cafe. Tapestries of heavy-metal lyrics!

            It’s just coffee, really, and I’m happy going elsewhere for it.

    • david says:

      Wow, chicken john sounds like a douche in this post. Maybe HE doesn’t want serious art in cafes he goes to, but that doesn’t mean the rest of us don’t. Or maybe, sometimes we want to go to a cafe that has serious art and sometimes we don’t. There are plenty of cafes in this city to accommodate all tastes. Do what you want with your own cafe but don’t dictate what every cafe should be like.

      Then when someone makes a cutting remark in response, he makes a non-argument that makes him look like childish.

      And good god, I’d rather see sculptures of shit and piss than photos of people I don’t know at burning man. Always, and in every circumstance.

  38. QM says:

    The ‘banned’ artist couldn’t have asked for better publicity on photos that normally would not have received this amount of attention.

    The next, poor artist’s art has already been labeled “fluff.”

    Maybe the artist next up could do a “Bird on a Wire” series, with David Carradine, Mel Gibson and Goldie Hawn’s, faces superimposed over the birds’ heads to add even more “fluffiness” to the work (a la the movie).

    The owner of the coffee shop just looks like a petty, yuppy person with too much time on her hands. And, her own “un-fair trade” will probably end up in a lawsuit for firing the “curator” who was simply doing his/her job…

  39. JJ san says:

    This all makes me so glad I don’t drink coffee.

  40. Check out http://artofsf.com. You can post photography, fine art, literature, videos and music. We will never take it down. Accounts are free and posting your works will help you build your online portfolio. Your creativity has a new home. ; )

  41. creepdraws says:

    I think an artist’s boycott of Ritual is in order. I already only drink Philz coffee because I can literally see it from my bedroom window, it is so close. So this should be pretty easy for me.
    Honestly though I do feel pretty bad for the artist no matter what the “real” reason is for the art being removed. I would be pretty bummed if this happened to me. Although the publicity is probably worth it. You can’t buy that kind of exposure. Although a different kind of “exposure” is for sale on the walls of Ritual as of now.

  42. ken y says:

    regardless of what you think of the merits of Layzer’s photographs, Eileen Hassi has to be given credit for creating a beeeeeeeeeeautiful piece of “crazyass rejection letter” art.

  43. michael says:

    Go to Four Barrel. The are artist friendly and have allowed me to curate their walls with work by great artists. All the work is new and beautiful. Everyone knows what is beautiful ( flower, fluffy koala bears, rabbits) so if you can find work that is new and beautiful (never been seen before) you have discovered and icon of out times. Think Andy Warhol or Jasper Johns.

    I always apologize when I make a bad mistake. (advice to ritual)

  44. SFitall says:

    Chicken John has a gallery?

    • Pretty much any boarded-up commercial space on Valencia could be considered as a “Chicken John Gallery”.

      Free moustache rides in the back, I would guess.

      • Lynae says:

        Do you seriously think most of those boarded-up commercial spaces are available, at any price, or have been at all in the last 5 years? ‘Cause you’d be wrong. Call and ask them. They are deliberately not being rented out.

  45. Another Peasant says:

    Eileen Hassi, a business woman in San Francisco with more friends-turned-enemies than you can point a stick at. Horrible business owner, predatory and unethical practices exist with the confines of her mind.

    Jeremy Tooker who built Four Barrel after having years-prior done all of the construction and interior design of Ritual Coffee, as a former co-owner with Eileen Hassi, was sneakily and shamefully bought out by Eileen who had been setting money aside in a long seeded plan to oust him as co-owner leaving the creation known as Ritual Coffee Roasters solely her own.

    There is a seemingly endless list of fellow business owners, past employees and disheartened customers who gasp of the ever-gone good ol’ days at Ritual Coffee when it was a company who’s foundation was grounded not only in amazing coffee but also personality and honesty, an inviting sense of place.

    Eileen you fucked up again.

  46. anita says:

    life is too short. hope the artist can shake it off & go on to bigger & brighter things so ritual can regret the day they burned that bridge

  47. Aaron says:

    Good luck to Ms. Layzer on arranging future exhibits. By releasing this letter, which documents an apology, an offer of compensation, and gallery referrals, she has impulsively injured her own reputation.

    I hope that even the most histrionic commenters here on Mission Mission, regardless of whether they respect Ms. Hassi’s decision, would respect that she has a right to express her and her business’ identity. And to that end that she may approve- or remove- anything she likes.