Tom Marioni

The artist's role in society is to observe real life and report on it poetically. If the movement of his materials is sure and honest, the work becomes a beautiful gesture.

In a brochure for a 2005 exhibition titled Sounds Like Drawing at the Drawing Room in London, the curator Anthony Huberman describes Tom Marioni as “a seminal figure of the American conceptual art movement. He pioneered the use of social situations as art and explored performance as sculptural actions using sound, drawing, photography, and installation.” Thomas McEvilley in the introduction to Marioni’s 2003 memoir, Beer, Art, and Philosophy, says that “in terms of the history of art, the moment of Marioni’s arrival was the beginning of a new era. All the rules were about to be rewritten and he would be a part of it.”

Marioni was born in 1937 in Cincinnati, Ohio, attended the Cincinnati Art Academy, and in 1959 moved to San Francisco where he still lives. His first sound work, One Second Sculpture (1969) was celebrated in the 2005 Lyon Biennial as presaging the work of many artists today who use sound and duration as subjects. His first museum show was in 1970 at the Oakland Museum of California. Titled The Act of Drinking Beer with Friends Is the Highest Form of Art, it was an early example of social activity as art. Over the years, Marioni has been invited to repeat the work in various contexts around the world.

In 1970 Marioni founded the Museum of Conceptual Art (MOCA), which he described at the time as “a large-scale social work of art.” Until the museum closed in 1984, he organized many groundbreaking shows, including Sound Sculpture As in 1970. MOCA has entered history as the first alternative art space in the United States. Marioni had one-person shows in several significant venues for early conceptual art, among them the Richard Demarco Gallery in Edinburgh in 1972 and the Gallery Foksal in Warsaw in 1975. In 1977 he had a solo show, The Sound of Flight, at the de Young Memorial Museum in San Francisco. He has done installation/performance works at the Whitechapel Gallery in London (1972), the Institute of Contemporary Art in London (1973), the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris (1980), and the Folkwang Museum in Essen, Germany (1982), among other museums.

Marioni was included in important sound art shows: For Eyes and Ears (1980) at the Academy of Fine Arts in Berlin, Live to Air (1982) at the Tate Gallery in London, and From Sound to Image (1985) at the Stuttgart Staatsgalerie in Germany. His work was shown in Out of Actions: Between Performance and the Object in 1998, organized by the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles. Drawing is central to Marioni’s art, and in 1999 he had a drawing retrospective at the Mills College Art Museum in Oakland. His prints have been published by Crown Point Press since 1974. In 2006 the Contemporary Arts Center in Cincinnati presented a survey exhibition of his work since 1968. Marioni was included in The Art of Participation: 1950 to Now, in 2008 at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and The Third Mind: American Artists Contemplate Asia, 1860-1989 in 2009 at the Guggenheim Museum, New York. His work is in the collections of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Stadtische Kunsthalle in Mannheim, Germany, and other museums. He is represented by Anglim/Trimble Gallery, San Francisco and Carl Solway Gallery, Cincinnatti.

-Kathan Brown, Crown Point Press


  • Opening Reception with Tom Marioni & Wayne Thiebaud, Fall 2017 (5 minutes)

    Watch this video documenting our opening reception with Tom Marioni and Wayne Thiebaud that took place on September 13, 2017. Marioni's "Beer Drinking Sonata" (1996) was performed by 13 invited friends.

  • Tom Marioni at Crown Point Press, 2017 (4 minutes)

    Watch this video of Bay Area Conceptual artist Tom Marioni working on his 2017 series of etchings.

  • Tom Marioni at Crown Point Press (4 minutes)

    Artist Tom Marioni talks about the works in his exhibition at Crown Point Press in San Francisco.

  • AN ART AND MATH PANEL Richard Karp, Tom Marioni, Dan Rockmore, Kathan Brown (45 minutes)

    A real-time discussion centering on taste, truth, and fundamental laws as they apply to art and mathematics. Karp is a computer scientist and Turing Award recipient, and Rockmore a writer, mathematician and professor at Dartmouth. Marioni is a pioneer of conceptual art, and Brown is founding director of the etching workshop Crown Point Press in San Francisco, where the discussion takes place.

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