Rant 27: Cheers
Imi Maufe, Twelve Reasons to Drink Champagne, 2005. Concrete, wood and found objects. Credit: Imi Maufe
How was your hangover the morning after the last exhibition opening you attended? Do you remember the art? Jennifer Allen does the maths on how much you might end up drinking on a preview night and asks: what role does alcohol really play in the art world? Is art and alcohol the ultimate crossover movement in art?
Of all the crossover movements in art, one of the oldest seems to have escaped critical attention. I’m not talking about art and fashion, art and architecture or art and music but another combination that seems to predate crossovers themselves and is likely to outlive the movement: art and alcohol.
At every exhibition opening there’s sure to be plenty of both on hand and even more booze at the dinners and parties that follow an opening event. If you do a few openings in one evening – and have a glass at each – then every work may start looking like Op Art by the end of the night. It’s probably better to do the math before heading out: five openings and just as many glasses of wine add up to one litre!
I am not suggesting a ban on booze, although I keep meeting people who have gone on the wagon for a month or even for good after a particularly intensive exhibition season. Instead of promoting prohibition, I wonder what role alcohol plays in the reception of art? Alcohol is what distinguishes the opening from the exhibition, although both will take place in the same space, be it a commercial gallery or a public museum. If we don’t usually drink before going to a gallery or a museum, why are we ready to raise a glass for an opening?
The answer may lie in yet another difference between openings and exhibitions: conversation. After the opening, visitors in an exhibition tend neither to drink, nor to speak with each other – at least not strangers. Perhaps the real crossover is between drinking and talking, especially sharing opinions about artworks that one has never seen before. As phrases like ‘speakeasy’ and ‘In vino veritas’ would suggest, there’s nothing better than alcohol to grease and to sharpen the tongue. Yet this argument implies that there’s nothing worse than giving an opinion – on the spot – about art.
Contributed by Jennifer Allen
Jennifer Allen is a critic living in Berlin.
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