Free beer

Sam van Aken at Whitney Art Works
By CHRIS THOMPSON  |  May 9, 2007
SETTLE IN: Have a drink; it helps with the appreciation.

“The Irish Pub Time Machine for the meeting with Loris Gréaud: Author of the Quixote” is a trailer kitted out by Sam Van Aken to replicate a West End London version of an Irish drinking establishment, circa the early-naughties (as in what followed the nineties).

Inside that trailer, arse on the mahogany bench, one part pissed on the Guinness that flows freely from a tap mounted on the wall at the head of the table, looking out at the blue sky on the other side of the concrete wall on the other side of the potted palms lining the inside of the cargo doors, listening to wistful classics from INXS, Sinead O’Connor, and Quiet Riot, it’s not hard to imagine a world worth living in.

The only feature that punctures the perfection of the illusion is the fact that you can pour your own stout — or, one must not fail to note, fill your own glass with Jameson — without having to approach a bar, ever. While this detracts from the work’s seamless replication of the sort of authentic Irish experience available in any number of cities in the Western world, it enhances the drinking experience immeasurably. On top of it, one never has to pay a penny for one’s pleasures — there’s a bottomless keg clamped to the trailer hitch and it’s piped into the pub as surely as the Liffey flows to the sea.

I sit, dregs of a head of Guinness a puddle in my pint glass. Table top’s slick and sticky from spills and a month of warm skin on its unwashed surface. Oak trims the forest green walls. “Knights in White Satin” cues up. What more, besides an entry in Janson’s Art History, Van Aken would need in order to clinch his place amongst the great masters is beyond my capacity to imagine.

Now then: Loris Gréaud is a good artist but there’s no way in hell he wrote the Quixote.

In fact the French symbolist Pierre Menard did, over half a century ago, crafting a word-perfect replica of the finest passages from Miguel de Cervantes’s 17th century “masterpiece.” When he succeeded, after heroic labor, in matching Cervantes original line by line and word for word, notes critic Jorge Luis Borges, he proved his superiority over Cervantes. Menard had immersed himself in Cervantes’s world — at three centuries’ remove, such was his skill — inhabited it, and reinvented his work so faithfully and excruciatingly that he rendered the original pale parchment by comparison.

Gréaud did write the following, however, as a statement accompanying his work for the 2006 Frieze Art Fair: “Imagine the idea of a space where the scale has disappeared, where the immaterial joins the infinite — a space where the ending doesn’t exist anymore. A place motivated by irresolution, like the image of Alice in Wonderland’s riddle which is still unresolved: Why is a raven like a writing desk?”

Who knows? Alice couldn’t figure it. The Mad Hatter, who had posed it, had no idea either. Nor, moving up the sliding scale of authorship, had Lewis Carroll, or if he did he never came clean. In his Frieze project, Gréaud created “nanosculptures” — a gallery ostensibly occupied by sculptures too small to see with the naked eye; rather, belief was the operative mode for experiencing them.

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Related: Impossible dreamer, On the table, Arms of the ancients, More more >
  Topics: Museum And Gallery , Sinead O'Connor, Michael Jackson, Lewis Carroll,  More more >
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