I grew up on a 30 square-kilometer island. There were between seven and nine Starbucks on our island, depending on whom you asked. As both the cool place to hang out (when you were 12 years old) and a part of your daily routine (when you were 40 and too boring for an independent coffee shop), Starbucks was an integral part of my hometown’s culture. Furthermore, as we were just minutes away from Seattle by car, bus, or boat, our entire regional identity was (unfortunately) determined by a half-naked mermaid serving two-pump-skinny-iced-white-mocha-Frappucinos.
During my time at the University of Washington, I managed to talk my way into a job at the oldest coffeehouse in Seattle. Once there, I was educated on a number of subjects—First, the difference between drawing a beautiful flower on a latté and drawing a vaguely phallic blob is minimal. Second, learning to flirt with customers and learning to pretend that their mundane life stories are worth discussing are essentially the same. Third, people are DESPERATE to show their art projects on the walls of a well-visited café.
I was reminded of the time when café curating consumed my life the other week while I interviewed Alexander Dewhirst of Artistdock. Describing his plans for the future gallery-lounge space, he said, “This isn’t like taking a Starbucks and putting art on the wall—first of all, Starbucks isn’t in a position to figure out how to put an exhibition together…”
Or are they? Back home, showing your artwork in a Starbucks was a telltale sign that you were abandoning art and committing to your day job as a legal aide or software engineer. Art in Seattle’s Starbucks represented the bottom-crust of mediocre watercolors or kitschy sunset photographs—but was this the case in Berlin? I took to the streets to do some investigative journalism on the topic.
First of all, the lighting situation in Starbucks is abysmal. While the photograph above was adequately exposed and appropriately printed, it was placed under a hot light that blew out the matted surface. -16 for bad light!
As a photographer, I understand the amount of effort that goes into facemounting a print of any size. The effort, however, was wasted by the large windows directly across from the prints. Light streaming through the panes reflected off the photographs, rendering them virtually incomprehensible. +20 for very nice windows, but -20 for poor exhibition design.
I was going to speak to the curator, but then I remembered I was in a Starbucks.
I found this gem nestled underneath a stairwell. Drawing inspiration from Berlin's famous street art, this photograph was "raw" and "edgy. It was also next to the bathroom, which not one but FOUR Starbucks patrons informed me was accessible only if you paid the barista upstairs. I had not asked, but it was good to know regardless. -9 for paid restrooms, but +14 for helpful strangers.
Again, it was not all bad! A diamond in the rough, this hand-drawn chalk image was found at the Starbucks near Stadtmitte. The accompanying poem was a nice reminder that Autumn IS great for walks and hot drinks (such as those that Starbucks sells! How convenient!). I hope the artist (bored barista) was compensated for their ample proof that Starbucks is—globally—where art goes to die.
Starbucks / Friedrichstraße 61, U6 Stadtmitte / Overpriced / more info