Beer, Art and Philosophy by Tom Marioni

March 5, 2010

Buy the Book

Tom Marioni left Cincinnati as a young man to do conceptual art in San Francisco. Then he wrote a memoir that ends (close to) here:

I don’t like to sound pedantic but I believe art is a poetic record of the culture with the power to inspire people to a spiritual awareness. I also think art represents the culture’s most excellent examples of visual ideas.

That’s pretty straightforward. I like it. Art’s spiritual and never transcendent. It’s always stuck in the mud it came from. Put differently: it always has its context. Marioni gently speaks to the context of each decade in the book. Say, the pendulum swing in contemporary art from the 70s to the 80s.

The book’s straightforward, too. It’s a pleasure to read such such a plain-spoken work from one of the more radical conceptual artists. He’s on Duchamp’s path, with curious installations and performances. Of late that’s the art school path, tenure and whatnot. For Marioni and his peers it was the opposite. He organized an alternative gallery, SF MOCA, and made a signature sound work by peeing in a bucket from a ladder. (With his back to the gallery crowd. Modesty enough to make the Queen City proud~ a paradox!)

So naturally he pranked the San Francisco Museum of Art as they looked for a director. After a year and a half, knowing they’d make a too-conservative choice, he sent out cards announcing he’d been appointed:

The art critic for the San Francisco Chronicle, Alfred Frankenstein, wrote that there ought to be a limit to the pranks that a Conceptual artist can pull. Twenty-six years later a collector bought one of the cards from me and gave it to the museum for its collection.

Circles, like the ones he draws. Marioni’s like the straight man in the book. His art’s the comic, only very very smart. His greatest work’s an ongoing beer salon on Wednesday nights. With rules like:

  • Two-drink minimum: this means at least two.
  • No beers in cans except Tecate.
  • No smoking, except writers and cigar smokers.
  • Leave the bathroom light on.

The book’s peppered with his drawings, cartoons really, of this and this: Guernica, his first car, Brancusi’s studio. Like the cover, they’re a delight.

(Over on his site you can download a PDF of the exhibition catalogue of his 2006 solo show at the CAC in Cincinnati, too, and sample his drawings, his installations, his video work)

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