Hybrid art gallery and cafe Artistry is a platform for emerging artists. -- PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI FOR THE STRAITS TIMES
You are admiring the artworks on the restaurant walls while enjoying your meal. By dessert, you can stand it no longer: "Waiter, I'll have the bill and put that painting on it too."
Sounds outlandish? More eateries here are catering to patrons' appetites for art and design.
At newly opened Alpine diner Zott's, for example, oil paintings by up-and- coming Russian artist Konstantin Sotnikov hang on the walls. The paintings make up his debut exhibition in Asia and are for sale.
Managing director Philipp von Pein, 36, tells Life! that at Zott's, "they take their art seriously". The restaurant's featured artists and works are selected with care, he adds, meant as more than mere decoration on walls.
"We want them to provoke an emotional response in the viewer," says Mr von Pein. "We believe art should leave a lasting impression and inspire."
The fine dining restaurant in Amoy Street, which opened in March, is one of an increasing number of food and beverage joints doubling up as art galleries. At least five have cropped up in the last two years, such as SPRMRKT, Mad Nest, Artistry and new entrants Zott's, Elffin & Elffin and Canvas, the last a nightclub slated to open at Upper Circular Road in July.
Mr von Pein, a German business partner of Zott's German owner Christian Zott, believes that good art complements the food, and the dining experience is only as good as the ambience.
Those who are interested in collecting art can purchase Sotnikov's pieces, which range in price from $5,000 to $50,000.
At Elffin & Elffin, a quaint gallery cafe in Haji Lane which opened in February, co-founder Rachel Seah, 21, gives space to the works of up-and-coming local artists such as Singapore-based, Vietnamese photographer Jade Mai and School of the Arts students.
Ms Seah graduated with a fashion degree from the Lasalle College of the Arts last month.
She decided to open a cafe six months ago. An informal street survey she did in Haji Lane, with her boyfriend and Elffin co-founder Ivan Loh, 26, convinced her that there was a demand for more local arts and crafts in cafes from young adults and tourists shopping in the area.
Ms Seah is a member of the Singapore Contemporary Young Artists, a society that generates interest in contemporary art by local artists through outreach programmes, and she says she is passionate about supporting young artists.
"There are not many outlets for local artists to showcase their works, so we want to be a platform for them," she says. The cafe takes a cut of 10 per cent of every work sold - lower than most other galleries, whose commission can go up to 70 per cent, claims Ms Seah. Artworks are priced below $500.
Rotating exhibitions mean there is something new to look at every month.
The art-and-food concept is not new. Since 2010, similar outlets such as The Society Bistro in Mandarin Gallery, Nautilus Project in Ion shopping mall and Food #3 in Rowell Road have launched and closed.
Despite the vagaries of the business, Mr Mahen Nathan is not daunted. The art gallery-cum-night club, Canvas, which he co-owns, is expected to open in the middle of next month. Inspired by American pop-artist Andy Warhol's The Factory in New York City, his studio and a hip hangout for quirky art folk in the 1960s, Canvas will be an art gallery by day and a club come nightfall.
The gallery, in Upper Circular Road, will showcase works from artists across genres, such as photography, sculpture and installation.
Says Mr Nathan, 45: "As long as we are able to engage, entertain and keep our patrons happy, we are not worried. Competition doesn't necessarily mean less business. Together, we can help to develop the market into a bigger pie for all."
Curiously, the reverse concept does not seem as acceptable: few traditional art galleries are about to invite you to have a picnic or start selling snacks on its premises. Which leads one to wonder if food might be viewed as a distraction to the serious collector.
Happily, most gallery-eateries report positive customer feedback.
Mr Prashant Somosundram, 34, one of the three owners of Artistry, says that at least half of his patrons - the number of which ranges from 60 on weekdays to 150 on weekends - will check out the works on the cafe walls.
His gallery has showcased works by emerging artists, such as local painter Simon Ng, local photographers Jane Koh and Jeannie Ho and local design studio Chemistry.
Chemistry, for instance, put up an exhibition exploring Singapore's food obsession through a mix of products, visuals and art pieces.
"Silent art galleries can be intimidating," he says. "The casual setting of a cafe allows more interaction. People are less afraid to ask questions."
Marketing and public relations manager Cheryl Lee frequents gallery restaurant Mad Nest in East Coast Road.
The two-year-old restaurant holds exhibitions by emerging local artists and designers. Shows change every three to six months.
"I'm always curious to see how Mad Nest uses the space because it is different every time," says Ms Lee, 29.
Bank officer Choy Wen Han, who dines at Zott's, says the artwork in the restaurant serves as a talking point during meals with art-lover friends.
"The animalistic and voodoo elements in the paintings make for interesting conversion fodder," says Mr Choy, 37. Acknowledging that art displays in restaurants are not new, he praises Zott's for its focused curation and efforts to bring in international artists.
He adds: "I like still life paintings and I'm tempted to buy one of Sotnikov's, in which he depicted a hippopotamus in a bowl of soup. But at five figures, the price is a bit steep."