The Act of Drinking Beer with Friends is the Highest Form of Art

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Haiku Poem 2006

DaVinci Duchamp
John Cage Beuys and Brancusi
Kline and Picasso

—Tom Marioni


I’ll be heading into the basement, maybe it’s the sub-basement, of YU Contemporary tonight for a little warm up for Tom Marioni’s The Act of Drinking Beer with Friends is the Highest Form of Art. There are apparently three of these private events in advance of the public event this Saturday, July 30, 4-7 PM. The YU basement, you’ll recall if you’ve been on the tour of that magnificent building, is where the giant old boiler for the former Yale Union laundry is housed and is where some little trickling tributary of the Willamette runs beneath a metal-grate catwalk. It’s spooky and magical and ancient feeling at the same time. YU has dubbed this new subterranean social space, West Coast.

I’m not a beer drinker (maybe this disqualifies me for the event), but I do think that conversation among friends, and especially if they are artists and thinkers, is quite possibly the highest form of something. And if like me you appreciate two particular strains of art—that of the art of the idea or conceptual art and participatory art that we can trace to Dada, to Fluxus, to Oldenberg, to Kaprow—it may be the highest form of art indeed. And drinking beer with Tom Marioni is frosting on that cake. I don’t know him, but one whose aim is to “observe real life and report on it poetically,” is a man I would like to know. See also: his haiku above for a few of my favorite things.

Download the PDF of this wonderful catalogue Marioni: Beer, Art, and Philosophy for more reasons to be mad for him.

Tom Marioni performance drawing


I found this image this morning of Marioni doing one of his performance drawings. And those of you who are friends with whom I would drink something that is not beer are probably sick of hearing me talk about it, but I have been reading and rereading Ralph Waldo Emerson’s essay, “Circles,” which begins, “The eye is the first circle; the horizon which it forms is the second, and throughout nature this primary picture is repeated without end.”

I love that this event is about one’s immediate circle, one’s friends, but in the context of an institution, it’s also about extending that circle outward. So whatever kind of insularity the title and the empty beer bottles that will be on display as evidence of the previous private events suggests, there is this built-in pushing outward of the circle’s circumference via good, old-fashioned hospitality and conviviality.

Saturday’s beer drinking (an open bar for a $5 donation) will be the closing event for YU’s first Preview Project, the exhibition Selections for the PCVA Archive. What is the PCVA archive? I’m glad you asked. In fact, Marioni is at YU because he was once in Portland, in 1977 to be exact, to do a “sculptural action” entitled Yellow is the Color of the Intellectat the Portland Center for the Visual Arts (PCVA).

The color yellow is in many of my works. I was in Canada once in the middle of winter for a show, and in
the newspaper the next day the art critic said that I brought California light
with me.

PCVA hosted dozens and dozens of exhibitions, performances, installations, and actions by nationally recognized artists including Marioni, Sol LeWitt, Donald Judd, Trisha Brown, and many others. The archive of PCVA, which operated from 1972-1989, is housed at the Crumpacker Library of the Portland Art Museum. The Selections project, as you might expect, shows some selections from that archive for the first time.

According to YU, in 1976, Marioni started Café Society, a Wednesday afternoon social club that met down the street from the Museum of Conceptual Art in San Francisco that he’d founded in 1970. And he apparently has since continued to host weekly Wednesday salons at his studio.

Saturday is your chance to raise a glass to and with this West Coast conceptual art champion. See you there.



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