While waiting for the Thanksgiving turkey to roast yesterday, Gallerist sat at home, a glass of beer in hand, and read about the exhibitions that are opening in Miami next week, in conjunction with the Art Basel Miami Beach fair. As we skimmed the news release for Erwin Wurm’s Bass Museum of Art show, these lines caught our eye:
“Wurm’s smaller-scale ‘Drinking Sculpture’ series ask the audience to engage and they literally do; it is a bar. The viewer can open drawers and interact with the piece.”
We were previously unaware of these works, and this was a thrilling discovery, placing Mr. Wurm firmly in the ranks of artists who have used the bar—or just alcohol—as their medium. Think of Salon Aleman (2006), Eduardo Sarabia’s tequila parties at the 2008 Whitney Biennial, or Tom Marioni’s FREE BEER (1970-79) salons. Fine works.
In the accompanying slide show we present highlights from the history of alcoholic artworks. Its span is rather wide. The only rule for inclusion was that the work needed to incorporate alcohol in some way—whether the liquid itself, its packaging, its advertising or various accoutrements. Mere depictions of drinking were prohibited (Picasso’s 1901 Absinthe Drinker, for instance).
We no doubt missed many seminal works in this genre, and invite you to please share them in the comments below.
Matias Faldbakken, Liquor Sculpture, 2010
Thirty-two liquor bottles, dimensions variable.
First shown at Simon Lee gallery in London, the Danish artist's elegantly simple scatter piece consists of just 32 bottles of liquor, including Tanqueray, Bombay Sapphire and Grey Goose. (Is that Disaronno, we spy?) Is its owner truly able to resist the temptation to crack a bottle when the mood strikes and replace it later?
Cyprien Gaillard, The Recovery of Discovery, 2011
72,000 bottles of Efes beer.
Earlier this year, Mr. Gaillard created a hulking pyramid of beer at the KW – Institute for Contemporary Art in Berlin, which was consumed for the run of the exhibition. Why Efes beer, you ask? The brand had to be imported from Turkey, just like the Pergamon Altar, which Germans relocated in the 19th century.
Tom Marioni, FREE BEER (The Act of Drinking Beer with Friends Is the Highest Form of Art), 1970-79
Refrigerator, framed print, shelf, beer bottles, and lightbulb, installation view at SFMOMA
West Coast conceptual artist Tom Marioni began this (somewhat self-explanatory) project in 1970: getting together with friends to drink beer. SFMOMA, which owns the installation, put it on view back in 2008 for its "The Art of Participation" exhibition.
Liquor on top of Tom Sachs, James Brown Listening Station, 2009, at Sperone Westwater
Mixed media, 59 1/2 x 78 3/4 x 30 in.
A few weeks ago, we ran into an acquaintance who said that he had just sipped cognac "out of crystal" at the opening of Tom Sachs's current Sperone Westwater show. We were incredulous. But, sure enough, when we visited later, we discovered that Mr. Sachs had supplied a nice shelf of liquor that is free for the taking on an upper floor of his show. One can sit on his custom-made Donald Judd chairs, listen to records from his James Brown Listening Station and sip a bit of alcohol before visiting the rest of the show. (Photo by Andrew Russeth)
Eduardo Sarabia, Salon Aleman, 2006
Installation view at the 2008 Whitney Biennial, Park Avenue Armory
As part of an ongoing work, Mr. Sarabia has researched the production of tequila and produced small batches on his own, which are delicious. He has also hosted a temporary traveling bar-as-artwork, called Salon Aleman, which has visited unitednationsplaza in Berlin, the 2008 Whitney Biennial and the New Museum.
Gilbert & George, Gordon's Makes Us Drunk, 1972
Video, 12 min.
In this seminal piece, a cornerstone of our survey here, the art pair sit next to a table in a dark room and proceed to drink Gordon's Gin. "Gordon's makes us very drunk," they take turns saying, as work by Elgar and Grieg blasts in the background. Hypnotic, heavenly. The video can be watched here.
Pablo Picasso, Glass of Absinthe, 1914
Painted bronze with absinthe spoon, 8 1/2 x 6 1/2 x 3 3/8 in.
When Picasso began to incorporate real-life objects into his works, he opted early on to use an absinthe spoon. As the Museum of Modern Art, which owns one of the six versions of the sculpture, notes, "In 1914, with France on the brink of war, absinthe was a subject of fierce debate. It was prohibited in early 1915 as a threat to French health and moral vigor. Picasso's sculpture can be seen as a tiny monument to a disappearing bohemian culture."
Jeff Koons, Hennessy, The Civilized Way to Lay Down the Law, 1986
Oil inks on canvas, 45 x 60 in.
Instead of using alcohol or its packaging in his work, like most of the other artists we are featuring here, Mr. Koons turned his sights to alcohol advertising in one 1980s series, adopting them as readymade material for large paintings. While it was hard to pick a single piece to represent that body of work, this Hennessy ad is particularly thrilling.
Cady Noland, This piece has no title yet, 1989
Beer cans, flags, steel scaffollding, paint and mixed media
A classic of the genre, this work uses hundreds of Budweiser cans to construct a melancholic tribute to all things American. As Tyler Green noted earlier this year, Budweiser's switch to a new can makes this both artwork and artifact. The Rubell Family owns the work today. (Photo by Incase/Flickr)
John Milkovisch, Beer Can House, 1968-86
Exterior view in Houston.
In 1968, John Milkovisch, a retired railroad worker, began covering his Houston yard and home with beer cans. Over the course of 18 years he used more than 50,000 cans in his project, and it is today preserved as a museum, surrounded by condos and new developments in zoning-free Houston. "I guess I just thought it was a good idea," he once said, with Warholian élan. "And it's easier than painting." (Photo by Andrew Russeth)
Jasper Johns, Painted Bronze (Ballantine Ale), 1960
Painted bronze, 5 1/2 x 8 x 4 3/4 in.
“Somebody told me that Bill de Kooning said that you could give that son-of-a-bitch two beer cans and he could sell them," artist Jasper Johns once said. (The "son-of-a-bitch" was his dealer Leo Castelli.) "I thought, what a wonderful idea for a sculpture.” And so Mr. Johns made a pair of two bronze Ballantine cans. It is in the collection of Kunstmuseum Basel.
Sarah Lucas, Beer Can Penis, 1999
Aluminium beer cans.
Johns once offered this often-repeated recipe for making art: "It's simple, you just take something and do something to it, and then do something else to it." In this case, British artist Sarah Lucas took that advice and brought it to Johns's own work. Beginning with the idea of the artist's Ballantine sculpture, she opted to use real cans instead of bronze, and then brutally combined them into this deformed phallus.