Artist Albert Oehlen Is Jolting Frieze Art Fair Attendees Awake With a Highly Caffeinated Bespoke Beverage

Careful, it's fully leaded!

Kafftee/Cofftea, conceived by German artist Albert Oehlen, at Gagosian's Frieze New York booth. Photo by Taylor Dafoe.

If you find yourself in need of a boost during Frieze New York, Gagosian gallery has you covered. The centerpiece of the famed dealer’s booth is a vending machine stocked with a new hybrid coffee-tea beverage—dubbed Kafftee/Cofftea—conceived by the German artist Albert Oehlen.

“This is a project he did with a friend of his in Munich who has a drink company, Aqua Monaco,” Stefan Ratibor, a director at Gagosian London, told Artnet News. “We thought it’d be cool at an art fair, which is a very commercial event, to have a vending machine.”

Oehlen debuted the drink at his exhibition “Cows by the Water” at the Palazzo Grassi in Venice in 2018, complete with a custom-designed vending machine. He has since shipped it around the world, to the St. Gallen Art Museum in Switzerland, the Serpentine Galleries in London, and the Aïshti Foundation and Tony Salamé Collection in Beirut.

Importing the machine and its contents to New York required FDA approval—an unusual hoop for a gallery to jump through. And because it was designed to accept €2 coins, Gagosian had to produce a custom token for the occasion, which fairgoers are provided free of charge.

Albert Oehlen's Kafftee/Cofftea vending machine at the Gagosian booth at Frieze New York 2022. The side reads: "They are coming to take me." Photo by Taylor Dafoe.

Albert Oehlen’s Kafftee/Cofftea vending machine at the Gagosian booth at Frieze New York 2022. The side reads: “They are coming to take me.” Photo by Taylor Dafoe.

“We made this coin for the day—it’s a fungible token,” Ratibor joked. “It’s almost a microcosm of an art fair. You put in a coin, you get an artwork.”

Oehlen, for his part, told the New York Times that the machine “is not an art piece.” But in keeping with the commercial theme, the gallery has paired the vending machine with a quartet of his paintings incorporating ads from Spanish billboards.

Two hours into the fair’s VIP preview, the dealer had dispensed 500 bottles of the highly caffeinated drink—half of the day’s allotted stock. Ultimately, the plan is to hand out a limited supply of 3,800 drinks.

Albert Oehlen, <em>Untitled</em> (2014). Photo by Stefan Rohner, ©Albert Oehlen, courtesy of Gagosian Gallery.

Albert Oehlen, Untitled (2014). Photo: Stefan Rohner, © Albert Oehlen, courtesy of Gagosian.

Reviews for Kafftee were mixed—one fairgoer told Artnet News that “it’s refreshing,” while another admitted, “I’m not going to drink it again.”

“It’s not as bad as I heard,” one gallery employee who wished to remain anonymous told Artnet News. “It’s like a Snapple Iced Tea with a hint of coffee.”

The demand surprised even Ratibor. “We’re now thinking of making a sculpture of the vending machine and selling it as an edition,” he said. “A couple of people have wanted to buy it!”

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