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On the same day that legendary Chinese artist Ai Weiwei disappeared, the coffee industry celebrated its high achievers at the annual European Coffee Symposium Gala Dinner, held at London’s Grosvenor House Hotel. This year’s lifetime achievement award went to a true coffee visionary who has, over the last decade, utterly revolutionised this retail sector. The recipient of this most coveted of accolades in the coffee business had the insight to realise that coffee was not just a retail proposition but also a cultural one. When he embarked on one of the most aggressive programmes of expansion yet seen in the coffee game, he commissioned superstar Swiss architects (and Ai Weiwei collaborators) Herzog & de Meuron to design what would become his flagship coffee shop. Housed in a former power station, this record-breaking café even has its own bridge (designed through a collaboration between giants of architecture and art Sir Norman Foster and Sir Anthony Caro) to take customers from the centre of town to this pioneering retail site. But this coffee impresario’s real stroke of genius came with the hiring of experienced curators from the art world to organise the interior décor along the same lines as a gallery programme. Over the years, the likes of Emma Dexter, Gregor Muir and Juliet Bingham (who have gone on to run blue-chip commercial galleries and even London’s ICA) have put on ambitious popular shows like Ai Weiwei’s hundred million sunflower seeds that have attracted a broad public to the café. Postcard-friendly exhibitions of Edward Hopper, Frida Kahlo and Henri Rousseau, for example, have led to diverse revenue streams, not only from postcard sales but also from corporate entertainment, a restaurant and a members’ bar, in addition to the core coffee shop business.


Nevertheless this giant of the coffee world is not without his critics and some coffee purists are concerned that his business model’s dependency on art has meant that commercial pressures could easily compromise the quality of Sir Nick Serota’s coffee. Given that art, in Pavel Buchler’s words, is “a ruthless business and possibly the last remaining unregulated sector of capitalist enterprise,”(i)


coffee and art represent a fundamental shift in the configuration of the coffee business? Well, by way of reflecting on the Serota-led revolution that has so


successfully repositioned contemporary art as a popular entertainment experience, let’s look into a national endeavor of historic proportions. Yes, the Olympic Games of 2013 (let’s be realistic) presents Britain with


a truly colossal challenge: to build The Worst Artwork Ever Made. When one considers the thousands of years of civilisation’s epic endeavours that must be surpassed to achieve this, one wonders whether our great nation is really up to this task, especially when the pride of Britain rests on just one man’s shoulders. Anish Kapoor’s ArcelorMittal Orbit, named of course after the Indian steel tycoon bankrolling the £19m steel artwork, would be a steal at twice the price (given that we’ll probably be getting a good deal on the 1,400 tonnes of steel required for its construction). According to the official blurb, it will have the “sense of energy, twist and excitement that


could this possibly dubious relationship between


i. Buchler, P. 2008. The Future of Art Education. Art Monthly, no. 320 (October), 2.


Anish Kapoor and Lakshmi Mittal unveil plans for their Olympic sculpture


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