Exclusive: We Talk to the Guys Behind One-of-a-Kind Bars at Armory Week


Are you a progressive artist? Do you like drinking beer? Well then, has Grolsch got a job for you! Recently, the iconic Dutch lager, known for that funky swing cap, tapped two New York artists to design, build, and install their own “art bars” to display during Armory Week: Billyburg painter David Kramer, who’s exhibiting with the VOLTA fair, and children’s chair collector and sculptor Jon Keay, who’s chilling in the “Cheap Fast and Out of Control” tent at SCOPE.

With limited supervision and a shoestring budget, the artists frantically put together their respective designs. “It was a fun challenge,” says Keay. “[The experience] is good because I’ve been running on two tracks for awhile and trying to find how to make it make sense to people.” For Keay, this meant meshing his knack for creating visceral, often musical experiences with his longtime passion for “weathering down” and reconstructing old furniture. His bar repurposes dark wood from discarded doors and uses red velvet and lots of smashed glass. “I went with SCOPE’s theme — cheap, fast, and out of control,” Keay jokes, although the ambient lighting and sumptuous tones resemble a forties gambling casino in Monte Carlo more than a junkyard. Materials were donated courtesy of San Francisco-based non-profit Build it Green.

For Kramer, the Grolsch project was a chance to be playful, and of course, drink beer. “My curator knows that drinking and beer have always played a role in my artwork,” he says very serious. “It was a perfect fit.” His bar mimics a split-apart tree trunk, bright green and earthy brown with stapled-on cardboard that gives the abrasive texture. There’s also an overseer, “sort of like this idealized self-portrait of me as a nine-foot, skinny lumberjack. French-Canadian,” Kramer says. The Brooklyn-bred painter, whose work explores the elusive connection between secret, unfulfilled desire and ersatz commercial allure, doesn’t take himself too seriously. When he performs a five-minute karaoke routine to “Rhinestone Cowboy” Saturday at 4:45 p.m., he’ll definitely be “holding onto that bar” to deal with his massive stage fright. But, he laughs, he’s stoked he’ll have Grolsch to help.

Conversely, Keay doesn’t need liquid courage for his improv set this afternoon. Keay, who plans to play double bass with a baritone saxophonist, curated all of the SCOPE fair’s music — over 30 hours’ worth. And taking the lead from SCOPE’s theme of “reusing,” he picked eclectic musicians who recycle their sound. Some, like Junkyard Gamelan, literally build their own instruments from trash; Wolff and Tuba features a former Austinite doing all sorts of weirdness with his brass piece; and Cangolesi Cards will delight with rehashed sounds from that golden era of jazz, the Great Depression.

This isn’t the first time Grolsch reached out to the art world. Last year, the company supported 12 major contemporary events including Art Basel Miami Beach, NADA Art Fair, and NEXT. They were also an alcohol sponsor at the Armory Show Preview Party we had at the MoMA the other night. All are very prestigious. And this year, it wants to participate in more. Like any devoted art fan, they obviously know when the booze is required.