Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Bravo to the Brilliant Henry Urbach

Opening this week at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art: 
Henry Urbach’s provocative and dazzling new exhibit, ‘When Wine Became Modern; Design + Wine 1976 to Now”

Bravo Henry! It’s a Triumph

Curator Henry Urbach thrills design, architecture and wine lovers with his intoxicating new exhibit, ‘How Wine Became Modern: Design + Wine 1976 To Now’, which opens at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art on November 20.

I’ve just had a preview of the exhibit and it’s thrilling.

The multi-discipline exhibit, which was designed by the renowned architecture studio Diller Scofidio + Renfro, covers paintings, photography, dramatic architecture, wine labels and graphic design, along with scents and colors and flavors associated with the wine world.
Architectural models and photography present dramatic new Napa Valley wineries (Dominus by Hertog & de Meuron, and Clos Pegase by Michael Graves) and the Spanish winery, Hotel Marqués de Riscal by Gehry Partners. Taste, terroir, and design are examined in industrial design, performing arts, music, film, and lively multimedia presentations, including a representation of ‘the Judgment of Paris’, the momentous tasting in which California wines trumped French wines.

Henry Urbach, who ran his own highly admired art gallery in New York prior to arriving in San Francisco five years ago, set out to probe the contemporary culture of wine—and every facet of the popularization of California wine.

The exhibition by Urbach and his team explores transformations in the visual and material culture of wine over the past three decades. It attempts to provide a fresh way of understanding the contemporary culture of wine and the role that design has played in its transformation.

Urbach, SFMOMA's Helen Hilton Raiser Curator of Architecture and Design has curated the first exhibition to consider modern, global wine culture as an expansive and richly textured set of cultural phenomena.

The exhibit takes as its starting point 1976, the year of the now-famous Judgment of Paris. In a blind taste test, nine French wine experts pronounced a number of northern California wines superior to esteemed French vintages.

However apt the decision, which was loudly praised and criticized and repeatedly restaged, the event gave the nascent California wine industry, particularly the Napa Valley, new confidence, credibility, and visibility.

The judgment, along with increased California vineyard investments and infusions of wine-making technology had in-depth effects, including the expansion of wine markets, growing popular awareness of wine, the popularization and new diversity of wine criticism. It also encourages vineyard tourism, the Napa Valley as a destination, and new knowledge and savoir-faire with wine. The culture of wine, posits Urbach, then began to encourage innovation in wine-making, diversification of wines, new markets, new vocabularies about wine, a new globalization, creative and effective marketing, the ubiquitous availability of fine wines, $2 wines, as well as rare and hand-crafted and impossible to buy wines. Screaming Eagle, flying high!

"In many ways," Urbach claims, "wine became 'modern' as it aligned with other forms of culture including music, painting, photography, dance, film, architecture, graphic arts and photography.”

And it is here, Urbach adds, "at this particular intersection between nature and contemporary culture, that the social meanings of wine reveal key issues of our moment today.

Dennis Adams, SPILL, 2009; production still; single channel video; Courtesy the artist, Kent Gallery New York and Galerie Gabrielle Maubrie Paris; photo: David Hurst

Dennis Adams, SPILL, 2009; production still; single channel video; Courtesy the artist, Kent Gallery New York and Galerie Gabrielle Maubrie Paris

The exhibition, developed in collaboration with Diller Scofidio + Renfro, combines architectural models and design objects with works of art, some newly commissioned, and multimedia presentations, as well as objects drawn from viticulture and everyday life. Viewers will encounter artworks, objects, and information within immersive, quasi-theatrical environments that engage multiple senses including smell.

No wine-tasting, sad to say. Not a drop. But make a reservation at Spruce or Saison, Zuni Cafe or Quince or Nopa, and dive into the wine list. I suggest taking the provocative ideas and inspiration out into the world, go wine-tasting, and order an unknown bottle of wine at a restaurant. A world of experience, the wine exhibit can enhance a trip to a wine bar, or opening a $2 bottle on

The exhibition is organized as a suite of galleries, as follows:

Viewers pass alongside In [ ] Veritas, a newly commissioned wall work by Peter Wegner that charts more than 200 house paint colors related to wine. Wegner's mural, more than 70 feet long, wraps an 18-foot-high curved wall; it vividly demonstrates the diffusion of wine-related language into everyday life while calling attention to the gaps that structure language and its relation to perception.

The Judgment of Paris
Few traces remain from the actual event, a rather modest affair despite its mythic status. Key artifacts will be presented: the two winning bottles as well as the original Time magazine article. Working with snapshots of the judges at work, Diller Scofidio + Renfro present a life-size photomural; its tableau, formed by contemporary actors in period dress, evokes Leonardo da Vinci's The Last Supper while offering an astonishing degree of realism.

Terroir, a theory of climate and history and soil and place that is fundamental to the culture of wine, holds that distinctive, even unique qualities of soil and climate can be discerned in the character, taste, and aroma of the liquid. With the expansion of viticulture across the globe, terroir has become something of a holy grail that winemakers compete for and claim as their own. The installation combines, from 17 vineyards around the world, the following elements: a small soil sample; soil and climate data (including temperature and humidity in real time); and a quotation from the winemaker about his or her understanding of terroir.

Clos Pegase

Frank O. Gehry, Hotel Marqués de Riscal, 2006; image courtesy Hotel Marqués de Riscal

Noteworthy architectural projects have emerged in recent years, including wineries by Mario Botta, Santiago Calatrava, Norman Foster, Herzog & de Meuron, Renzo Piano Building Workshop, and Alvaro Siza, as well as emerging designers such as Sebastian Mariscal and Propeller Z. Many of these buildings are in California, Spain, and Austria, though there is hardly a wine-producing country that has not joined the race. Recent wine-related buildings by Frank Gehry, Steven Holl, and Zaha Hadid (respectively, a hotel/spa, a hotel/spa and visitors center, and a tasting pavilion/boutique) reflect the accelerating importance of wine tourism in recent years.

Finally, four buildings are presented in depth: Clos Pegase Winery, Dominus Estate, Bodegas Baigorri, and the Hotel Marqués de Riscal.

In 1984, soon after founding its Department of Architecture and Design, SFMOMA sponsored a competition for the design of a winery (the first time a museum organized a competition for a building other than its own): Clos Pegase (1987), located near St. Helena in the Napa Valley. The winning architect-artist team, Michael Graves and Edward Schmidt, designed the winery at the height of American postmodernism as a faux-Pompeian compound.

Dominus Estate, courtesy of Maisons Marques & Domaines USA Inc.

The superbly elegant Dominus Estate by Herzog & de Meuron (1997), the first architecturally significant winery to be built after Clos Pegase, and the Hotel Marqués de Riscal by Gehry Partners (2007) mark two ends of a spectrum. On the one hand, Dominus asserts a strong and certain link between the building and the land; its gabion structure articulates a nearly invisible building that, among other qualities, establishes direct visual contact with the vines below.

A wall includes Thomas Ruff's photograph of Dominus Estate along with other works on paper.

Taste and Popular Culture
The taste of wine has been mediated, in our times, by a panoply of sources, from sommeliers to wine critics and popular media. The role and influence of these mediators cannot be overstated as, for example, critics such as Robert Parker influence not only what some consumers buy but also what some producers make. A media alcove contains eight monitors with a medley of images drawn from television, film, advertising, and YouTube.

Smell Wall
A translucent wall with suspended flasks, partially visible from the Judgment of Paris gallery, draws viewers into an intimate encounter with the smell of seven wines. Here, at the end of the exhibition, after learning about wine at a wide range of macro- and socio-cultural scales, the wall brings viewers into nearly direct contact with the liquid itself, providing an opportunity to enjoy its fragrance while learning about the education of the nose. Words whose meanings have shifted, disappeared, or been contested will be paired with each wine to emphasize the role of language in structuring sensory experience.

Viewers exit the galleries along the Peter Wegner mural, seeing it for a second time and understanding more clearly the ambiguities it poses. Moving towards the museum's fourth-floor north galleries, upon reaching an opening in the museum's thick, cylindrical wall, there's an invisible work by smell artist Sissel Tolaas. Commissioned for this exhibition, St(62) + [PGh(76) x Rp(100)],10 captures the aroma of a full bottle of the "perfect" wine- one of two bottles awarded 100 points by Robert Parker in 1976-on the artist's breath. 

You have to be there!

San Francisco Museum of Modern Art

And after that rousing visit and stimulating intellectual exercise—I suggest heading to the nearest restaurant or wine bar to indulge in some very fine and wonderful glasses of wine.
Through April 17, 2011. 




honeybeeandme said...

Love Wine!!!!!
You know that just last week I had my first taste of drinking Wine in a celebratory mood... Because my childhood was fraught with all kinds of alcoholic family members, I did not drink for over 14 or 15 years manily from the trauma of it, but I have been working so hard on my issues with that early life that, it has paid off, and I for the first time opened a bottle of Wine and had a truly connected moment with it.... so, I love this post.... Wine done with care and love shows when you drink it and when you then care and love yourself, you can feel it...


Diane Dorrans Saeks said...


Thank you for your profound and meaningful message. I truly appreciate it--and I am sure it will be inspirational to many of my readers.
I'm very impressed and proud of you for working on all of the conflicts and issues you were concerned about. Out of pain can come liberty and joy.
From all of this work--you are a triumph.
To see and appreciate wine as pure enjoyment, as a creative act, as the result of creative work by many talented people, is to see what it really is. Wine at its best is pure pleasure, an enhancement to the best things in life. Melissa--I wish you every happiness and I'm so proud of you for all the work--and your freedom and success that have followed.
Bravo to you, DIANE

Unknown said...

sounds like a great exhibit, and thank you for using the word 'gabion' in your coverage- i had to google it, and thus have now added another word to *my* descriptive vocabulary!

we love learning new things on the internets!

Karena said...

Diane what a wonderful profile I love Henry's work. That wine carafe, so contempoary! You do deserve a glass!

Come enter my giveaway from Empress of the Eye! You will love the interview!

Art by Karena


So glad to know and read about this fabulous exhibit! Groundbreaking.

Thanks Diane! xx

shiree segerstrom said...

Fantastic post. Style Saloniste is my go to for important design information. By the way Diane, the architect that designed SF MOMA also did the Renee and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall in Costa Mesa. Thought you'd be interested. Shiree' (Segerstrom)

shiree segerstrom said...

It was Cesar Pelli. Lord help my memory. Shiree Segerstrom

Cristin // Simplified Bee said...

What a fascinating post. Wine + art - I must see it for myself.

Hope all is well.


honeybeeandme said...

thank you Diane for such a lovely response.....


Diane Dorrans Saeks said...

HI DEAR FRIENDS...I Love your messages.

Maison 21: 'gabion'...I'm so glad you looked it up, and thus discovered a new word and concept. I like your spirit. Reminds me of some years ago when I was writing for a big newspaper about design--and had written a feature with 'gauffrage' and 'grisaille' and my editor said 'you can't write that, readers won't know those expressions' and I suggested to her that they would thus learn them. We did publish them, and I had so many readers saying things like 'how fascinating to learn about hose design terms...I had always wondered'...etc. So pleased you love to learn.
Karena-you would love the show--the carafes are so dramatic.
Marcy--yes, it's what to do and discuss this weekend.
Shiree--no, the architect of the museum is Mario Botta! Swiss, very wonderful.
Cristin--you would adore this show...it is very organized and very precise.
I have a great new story for next week--stay tuned.
very best, DIANE

Beadboard UpCountry said...

Fascinating subject correllation wine and art, I love it. How could you go and not be dying for a glass by the time you saw the whole exhibit!!!!!!!I wonder if the early winemakers in California ever dreamed it would evolve into this?????Always a pleasure. Maryanne ;)

YHBHS said...

this looks absolutely fantastic and so up my alley. fantastic posting on what looks to be a great show!