A Glass of Ancient Spanish Beer: Rodney Graham in Malaga

Since arriving in Malaga a couple of weeks ago, I have been on a no beer diet. In this land of Sangria, Ribera, Rioja and Vermut, you’d think that would be a pretty easy task. However, scattered across Malaga city are several craft beer bars that offer the widest possible variety of temptation. Last night, for example, we found another such bar in the Soho district of town. As I sipped my glass of Ribera, my partner Rebeka was studying the folder of beer choices available to her.

Above the wall of beers facing our table, I saw a poster for Rodney Graham’s 2008 exhibition at the nearby Centro de Arte Contemporáneo de Málaga, called “A Glass of Beer”. The poster showed a mirror-portrait of the artist in some form of 19th century Spanish outfit (think of Manet’s Spanish paintings), with a full glass of beer placed invitingly on the table in his left hand. This was too much for me and my beer-dieting self, “Even contemporary art is conspiring against me!”, I thought.

In thinking about why an exhibition would reference beer in Spain in 2008, well before the craft beer boom, I was reminded of the story of the ancient Spanish Beer juice called Caelia, that was replaced by wine when the Romans conquered the country in the late 3rd century BCE. Supposedly the warriors of the Spanish tribes would get drunk on this drink when fighting the wine-sipping invaders and this gave them their reputation for ferociousness. Perhaps the mirror-portrait of a bearded beer-drinking Graham, dressed up in Spanish finery, reflected on the tension between ancient Spanish wildness and Roman oppression in beer’s history?

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