A recent incident at Peet’s Coffee & Tea on upper State Street left several local artists bewildered when their paintings were promptly removed from the store’s walls following a customer complaint. The complaint, while rooted in a misinterpretation, was that one particular painting was offensive. According to Pamela Coddington, a representative from Peet’s corporate office, the decision to remove all artwork was the result of corporate policies rather than the painting’s subject alone.
According to sources, the painting was a portrait of the singer Jewel, with her name written across it. A customer allegedly misread the word “Jewel” as “Jew” and voiced her displeasure. While Peet’s employees have been directed not to speak directly to the media, Coddington stated that she does not think the artwork will be put back into place. According to Coddington, displaying local artwork at this particular Peet’s location was an anomaly.
“ [Peet’s] took [all of the paintings] down because the policy is not to have any. It’s inappropriate to have an exhibit. We didn’t mean to single out any artist,” said Coddington. Moreover, Peet’s locations all contain the shop’s own preapproved artwork, canceling the need to display additional local pieces.
Regardless, a number of artists felt the decision to remove all the work was unmerited. “I felt that, as a customer and as a member of the community displaying art, it was unfair. [It was] a strange case of censorship in the art world,” said local artist Daniel Janssen, who frequents Peet’s often.
According to Janssen, who displayed his own paintings in the coffee shop, artists were free to simply walk in and hang their work on any blank spot they could find. This process was more casual than that of other venues that also display local artwork. In many places, such as SOhO, artwork passes through the hands of the owner, who then decides what work gets displayed. Other stores, such as Coffee Cat, follow a more formal process, enlisting the help of a curator.