Having booze at an art opening is basically de rigueur etiquette. Its absence may provoke a similar response to finding oneself at a dry wedding, or some sort of afternoon networking event: “What am I doing here?” One can certainly question why alcohol has to be an underpinning of basically all social and creative events, and the recent two-fer show by Amada Miller and Nicholas Frank does exactly that, while creating a fantastic bar experience at a gallery in San Antonio.
Frank’s show Demos Schmemos at Fl!ght Gallery takes symbols of ancient Greek democracy as a stark contrast to our contemporary morass of misinformed authoritarianism. Frank creates replica obols, the currency of ancient Greece, which were the size of roasting spits to discourage accumulation of more than a day’s work worth of wealth (one could only carry six). Frank places them in urns in front of tableaus of rust brown and silver, creating a tactile abstraction of beer foam. The other pieces — pint glasses with a translucent print of a pint glass of beer on them (creating a drunken “double beer”), a bronzed TV wall stand, and eerie prints of plate-glass cracking on a printing press — establish the ambience of dissolution, and drift away from the platonic ideal of a civilization. As Frank writes in the exhibition statement: “We see what we want to see in clouds, and we buzz ourselves into oblivion as trust rusts away.”
In contrast to Frank’s grim tasseography of decline and ruin, Miller’s Hands Down speakeasy project reimagines the back space of the gallery into a functioning shop and bar for Fl!ght founder Justin Parr’s glass cups. What once was a fridge full of beer now also serves up plum-wine mescal cocktails. Miller created several dozen ceramic coins, each with a hand on them. The hand is reverberated in the silver “foam” of Frank’s piece. Bar patrons pay $5 for a drink and a “coin,” then come back and pay for another drink with a coin, and so on. The speakeasy will continue on through future shows at Fl!ght.
On the last night of Frank’s show, the bar was open and Justin Parr donned a rainbow cloak and “read” people’s beer foam. (There are a shocking number of divination techniques. My personal favorite is catoptromancy — divination by examining a mirror placed underwater). “When will things be less agonizing?” I asked Parr as he gravely examined the sinking foam in my beer. “Three years,” he answered. “Every couple of years someone tells me that,” I replied.