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.
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.
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.
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.