By Matthew Eley
As it turns out, that Old Kenyon party last weekend was actually a work of high art. At least, it might have been, in the eyes of artist Tom Marioni.
Marioni brought his interactive art piece, “The Act of Drinking Beer with Friends is the Highest Form of Art,” to the Gund Gallery’s Buchwald-Wright Gallery last night, shown in collaboration with the ongoing exhibit “Feast: Radical Hospitality in Contemporary Art.” The main goal of the evening was to foster communication and camaraderie amongst the attendees. The free beer, available to those over age 21, was a means to help reach this end.
“The Act of Drinking Beer with Friends” began as an event in the Oakland Museum outside of San Francisco in 1970. In 1973, Marioni turned the event into a weekly beer salon at his studio. This tradition has continued for the past 40 years. “It’s basically a bar put in a museum as artwork,” Marioni said in a promotional video for his work.
Marioni has taken his piece to many different museums, both in the U.S. and in Europe. The piece has also been showcased as part of “Feast” before when the exhibit was originally curated at the Smart Museum of Art in Chicago, in 2012.
The concept of drinking beer with friends to promote communication, in which the real-life interaction is part of the art itself, is only one of the artworks Marioni brought to the Gallery. He has also created material work to accompany the interactive piece, including “Golden Rectangle Beer,” a piece on the wall behind the bar. The “glass” is a television monitor turned vertically, and the beer is a channel depicting the golden liquid filling, bubbling and settling in the glass. “An Aid To Communication” is a shelf just to the side of the bar, containing approximately 300 bottles of Pacifico beer.
Marioni said he chose Mexican-made Pacifico because of its longer bottle, the distinctive yellow of its label, which reminded him of “California light,” and because he lived on the Pacific Rim. As students drank beers served by Associate Provosts Jan Thomas and Brad Hartlaub, conversation flowed like the ale the of-age attendees came for.
Right before he began speaking, Marioni added one more aspect to the show drawing a large circle on the wall behind where he would be speaking. Manjul Bhusal Sharma ’16 said that he was “very impressed [with Marioni’s freehand accuracy]. He used his arm as an axle to make huge circles with the radius of his arm.” This is something that Marioni does at every show. “One-hundred years after Picasso developed cubism, I came up with circlism,” Marioni joked.
The jokes did not stop there. Apropos the “Feast” exhibit’s sense of conviviality, Marioni remained near the evening’s end to tell a litany of quips and one-liners which received laughter and cheers. Bhusal Sharma said that “[Marioni’s] talk was 100 percent jokes…He was more of a stand-up comedian than an artist.”
Marioni will be back — likely with more jokes — to hold a follow-up talk both today during Common Hour at 11:10 a.m. and tonight at 7 p.m., in the Buchwald-Wright Gallery and Community Foundation Theater, respectively. The talk will reinforce the main ideas of the exhibit — whether at the Gund Gallery or at Old Kenyon, the act of drinking beer with friends is a valuable form of communication, one that should not be wasted by becoming, well, wasted.