For as long as there have been people, those people have been drinking. And for as long as they’ve been drinking, they’ve been turning their rabble-rousing into art. Whether used for ceremonial offerings or as social lubricant, alcohol has provided ample inspiration to artists and intellectuals the world over.
In fact, the word “symposium”—likely to make any art historian reach for a cocktail—is derived from the ancient Greek sympinein, meaning “to drink together.” Every culture has some association with a spirit of revelry (Bacchus, the god of wine, is particularly prominent in Western art history). The case has also been made for alcohol to serve a medicinal purpose—an “antifogmatic” to clear the cobwebs from one’s brain.
What better time than Independence Day in the United States—when many of us will be kicking back with a beer—to consider how artists have illustrated the act of imbibing over the years? Allow us to take you on a visual trip from 2,400 BC to the present—no hangover required. Bottoms up!
Ancient Egyptian, Relief of Ptahhotep before offering table at Necropolis (ca. 2400 BC)
Relief of Ptahhotep before offering table at Necropolis (Photo by DEA / G. DAGLI ORTI/De Agostini via Getty Images)
Ancient Greek, Red-figure psykter (wine cooler) with a symposium scene, (ca. 505–500 BC)
Red-figure psykter (wine cooler) with a symposium scene, Ancient Greek, c505-c500 BC. Photo by Fine Art Images/Heritage Images/Getty Images.
Giovanni Bellini and Titian, Feast of the Gods (1514/29)
Giovanni Bellini and Titian, Feast of the Gods (1514/29). Courtesy of the National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC.
Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio, Bacchus (1589)
Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio, Bacchus (1589). Courtesy of the Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence.
Matteo Ghidoni, Inside of an Inn With Drunk Fight (ca. 17th century)
Matteo Ghidoni, Inside of an Inn With Drunk Fight (ca. 17th century). Photo by Sergio Anelli/Electa/Mondadori Portfolio via Getty Images.
Adriaen Brouwer, The Bitter Potion (ca. 1630)
Adriaen Brouwer, The Bitter Potion (ca. 1630). Courtesy of Stadel Art Museum, Frankfurt.
Jacob Jordaens, The Feast of the Bean King (1640–1645)
Jacob Jordaens, The Feast of the Bean King (1640-1645). Courtesy of the Kunsthistorisches Museum.
Jan Steen, Beware of Luxury (ca. 1663)
Jan Steen, Beware of Luxury (ca. 1663). Courtesy of Google Arts & Culture.
Francisco de Goya, The Drunken Mason(1786)
Francisco de Goya, The Drunken Mason (1786). Courtesy of Museo del Prado.
Thomas Couture, Romans During the Decadence (1847)
Thomas Couture, Romans During the Decadence (1847). Courtesy of the Musee D’Orsay.
Vladimir Yegorovich Makovsky, Hiding From Wife (1872)
Vladimir Yegorovich Makovsky, Hiding From Wife (1872). Creative Commons.
Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Luncheon of the Boating Party (1880–81)
Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Luncheon of the Boating Party (1880-1881). Courtesy of the Phillips Collection, DC.
James Ensor, The Drunkards (1883)
James Ensor, The Drunkards (1883). Courtesy of Creative Commons.
Antonio Casanova y Estorach, Monk Testing Wine (1886)
Antonio Casanova y Estorach, Monk Testing Wine (1886). Courtesy of the Brooklyn Museum.
Peder Severin Kroyer, ‘Hip Hip Hurrah!’ Artists’ Party at Skagen (1888)
Peder Severin Kroyer, ‘Hip Hip Hurrah!’ Artists’ Party at Skagen (1888). Courtesy of Goteborgs Konstmuseum, Sweden.
Vincent van Gogh, The Drinkers (1890)
Vincent van Gogh, The Drinkers (1890). Courtesy of the Art Institute of Chicago.
Pablo Picasso, Absinthe Drinker (1901)
Pablo Picasso, Absinthe Drinker (1901). Courtesy of the Hermitage Museum.
Otto Dix, Portrait of the Journalist Sylvia von Harden (1926)
Otto Dix, Portrait of the Journalist Sylvia von Harden (1926). Courtesy of Centre Georges Pompidou.
Archibald J. Motley, Cocktails (1926)
Archibald J. Motley Jr., Cocktails (1926). Courtesy of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.
A New Sculpture Series That Will Keep You On the Lookout
Susie MacMurray, Medusa (2014–15). Courtesy of Pangolin London.
Be sure not to keep a eye out for Susie MacMurray’s beguiling handmade chainmail Medusa and Bryan Kneale’s towering Pendulum (Monumental) (Psst…this one’s outside!).
London is the hotbed of art-world goings-on right now, with its major summer contemporary auctions drawing the art market’s attention—but that’s not all. The art-meets-design Masterpiece London Art Fair is bringing more than 150 exhibitors to the South Grounds of the Royal Hospital Chelsea into next week. Now in its tenth year, Masterpiece isn’t resting on its laurels. Here are a few special installations to look out for this year.
Masterpiece London 2019, sponsored by Royal Bank of Canada, takes place June 27 to July 3, 2019, at Royal Hospital Chelsea, London.
We assume you have your beach vacation planned. Good for you! But what to read? Danielle Steel is obviously always a hit, but maybe you want something a little meatier, or maybe—going out on a limb here—you need to feel some connection to the art world, even when you’re miles away. We’ve got you covered. Here are our summer reading recommendations for a lazy day in the sand.
My Year of Rest and Relaxation (2018)Ottessa Moshfegh
You won’t be able to put this one down. The story follows a nameless New York woman in her 20s who, fed up with the demands of modern life, simply takes the year off to sleep. Heavily medicated, she drifts through life nonchalantly, irritated by even the slightest demands from her annoying friend (the last one she has left) and her stupid, selfish boyfriend. Before her early retirement, she works at a Chelsea gallery showing godawful works by an artist who later becomes something of an accomplice. Also, look at that striking book cover! It looks like an Ingres, but really it’s by a follower of Jacques-Louis David. You should always absolutely judge a book by its cover.
A murder mystery set in Paris? Check. A bibliophile expat American detective? Check. A mysterious and beautiful young artist whose obsession with books is reflected in her clever use of them to create elaborate installations and sculptures? Check. Never mind that you might be on the beach and the backdrop for this book is winter in the French capital. You’ll enjoy zipping around Paris’s lively food and art scenes as the plot unfolds and detective Hugo Marston tries to piece together who is behind a puzzling death—and what art might have to do with it.
Oval is set in a not-so-distant future in Berlin, where the art and startup landscapes have fully merged, where every alternative event has been usurped for product promotion, and where creativity and corporate thinking have completely gelled. “The only real difference between the people working in the creative industry and the people working at the airline counter is that the creatives are rude,” says Louis, a “disruption consultant” who is developing a club drug that makes users more generous. “Everyone we know assumes they’re intellectually and morally superior to normal people, but our friends are just as normal, just as conservative and boring as anyone else,” he continues. This debut novel is by Elvia Wilk, who has regular bylines in Frieze, Artforum, and E-flux.
The Life of Leonardo da Vinci(2019)Giorgio Vasari, with an introduction by Martin Kemp
Timed to the 500th anniversary of Leonardo da Vinci’s death, this new edition is adapted from Giorgio Vasari’s classic 16th-century Lives of the Artists, now in a new translation by Oxford art historians Lucy Russell and Martin Kemp. For the first time, images of works of art accompany Vasari’s text, as do some of Leonardo’s scientific studies. Plus, at just 128 pages, it’s a lightweight addition to any beach bag.
If you want the summer-reading equivalent of a sickly sweet confection that will make your teeth rot, look no further than Barbara Bourland’s new page-turner. The book follows a wannabe painter whose mentor, Carey Logan, has tragically downed in the black lake at Pine City, the most prestigious artist retreat in Upstate New York. When the unnamed artist travels to the place of Logan’s death, she finds herself wrapped up in a haunting presence.
Poor, Jewish, and female, the cards were stacked against Lee Krasner, but she never gave up on her ambition to be a great artist. In New York’s macho art world of the 1940s and ’50s, Krasner held her own and ultimately prevailed as a grade-A Abstract Expressionist. Strong, sassy, and smart, she enabled her troubled husband to produce his best works, and, as his widow, protected his legacy with skill and tenacity, famously getting the better of the Peggy Guggenheim in court. Levin portrays a true rebel with a cause.
Why We LikeIt: This one’s for our German-reading audience. In this memoir, the influential art dealer Johann König opens up about going blind at an early age following an accident when he was 12. König writes about learning to navigate the art world with a disability and about his art-filled family life (Andy Warhol and David Hockney often visited his father, the curator Kasper König). The English-language rights to König’s memoir are still available, should anyone who cares be reading… .
Innocents and Others addresses some of the most salient issues confronting the art world today through a perspective-shifting friendship-drama between two filmmakers on opposing sides of commercial success. Carrie, a middle-class transplant to Los Angeles, is trying to maintain a career as a writer-director of mainstream comedies targeted at adult (white) women. Meadow, a friend of Carrie’s from film school, continues making critically acclaimed, politically charged, avant-garde documentaries to assuage her guilt over being born rich. Their sensibilities and ethics collide over Inward Operator, Meadow’s forthcoming film about an economically disadvantaged blind woman who manages to ignite long-distance, nonsexual romances with celebrities strictly through phone calls. Spiotta expertly explores nuanced ideas about artistic exploitation, class privilege, and identity construction that feel more urgent than ever.
Nearly a decade old, this vibrant memoir is still a page-turner. Posthumously published, it is a behind-the-scenes look atMarcia Tucker’s life as an art-world trailblazer. (She was the first woman hired as a curator at the Whitney and would go on to found the New Museum in 1977.) Backlit by the cultural upheaval of the 1960s, the burgeoning feminist movement, and the grit of a bygone New York, her narrative is interspersed with anecdotes about meeting Bob Dylan and later storming out of a PhD seminar when a professor dismissed the work of Nancy Graves. The writing, edited by Tucker’s close friend Liza Lou, is humble, poignant, and incisive.