Tucked into the Lighthouse District of Seaport Village is a small, unassuming door leading to a sardine paradise. As part of Seaport Village’s new push to create an artistic hub on the waterfront, an Artist in Residence program has sprung up and has already featured unique partnerships with more well-known art hubs like Bread & Salt and the New Children’s Museum. Perhaps one of the most unique experiences visitors can currently find there is the performance installation, the Oslo Sardine Bar by artist (and purveyor of canned fish) Max Daily.
The concept is simple: come into Mr. Daily’s nautical shop, pull up a stool, and order a can of sardines (or mussels, or oysters, or sometimes even octopus). In addition to framed art for sale, sound installations, and a secret hatch into a shark room, visitors can enjoy the performative elements of the shopkeeper and his companion purveyors of canned fish as they explain the menu and their individual character backstories. Black lights illuminate a large menu board labeled FRESH FISH with the FRESH crossed out while small ships, dioramas, and historic photos cover other surfaces. Oslo is one part snack bar, one part gallery, one part performance art and completely unforgettable.
Mr. Daily explained his participatory art experience, “Oslo Sardine Bar is a hard thing to pin down into any one category as am I as an artist, but to put it simply it is a small sardine shop where people come together to share in exchanging stories and just having a great time all inspired by the atmosphere and performance of the ‘tin tenders’ who draw their stories and characters from travel, adventure, and the rich history of San Diego tuna canneries.”
Mr. Daily went on to explain some of the visual elements of the installation, “I also drew from the little European ‘conservas’ that just exploded with color on the shelves that I discovered on my travels.” Visitors can enjoy Mr. Daily’s unique recreation of this conserva experience with beautifully curated cans adorning the back wall of Oslo’s Seaport Village space.
Oslo Sardine Bar started as a small, almost accidental, installation in a micro-space at Bread & Salt in Logan Heights. Mr. Daily explained how the concept for Oslo was on his mind before its eventual opening in 2016, “At an exhibition in 2015, is where I first introduced paper hats and sardines with crackers. On the walls hung drawings of Saint Nichols of Oslo, a character who wore a quilt that contained an entire ocean and sent paper ships to rescue drowning sailors.” From there, the Oslo installation was featured in La Jolla Playhouse’s WOW Festival before being re-configured into a shipping crate and sent around the country before finally landing at its current home in Seaport Village. “But what it really comes down to is that this was an idea for a proper bar. A business. But I had to go at it from the only way I know. And that is art.”
Other elements of Seaport Village’s new cultural push can be found in Seaport Sessions, a lecture and local-music concert series (curated by none other than the Casbah and Vinyl Junkies) that can be enjoyed live on Thursday nights, as well as the Seaport Studio podcast with weekly and monthly features on topics ranging from local arts & culture news to specific Seaport Village small businesses.
“Seaport has been great and I think we have really helped a resurgence of locals coming back to Seaport, which they haven’t done since they were kids.”
Oslo Sardine Bar is normally open Thursday nights as part of Seaport Village’s Seaport Sessions events but often opens its doors at other times. For more up-to-date hours and dates, visit their Instagram (@oslosardinebar). The current schedule is subject to change due to COVID-19 concerns, virtual Seaport Sessions and Oslo Sardine Bar delivery options are fluid.
Photography by Kathryn Caudle.