Wine Becomes Modern at SF MOMA

Wine Becomes Modern at SF MOMA

Today, The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art launched How Wine Became Modern: Design + Wine 1976 to Now—a new exhibition open until April 17 that explores “the role that architecture, design and media have played in [wine’s] stunning transformation over the last three decades.”

The exhibit is presented in a series of galleries that curator Henry Urbach deemed paramount about wine: the 1976 Judgment of Paris tasting, terroir, wine labels and branding strategy, glassware, enological design, winery architecture and wine in mass media are all showcased visually and there’s even an olfactory aspect. His objective? To portray wine’s position as an integral part of our lives. The fact that Urbach claims he didn’t have much knowledge of wine when he began the project two years ago (he calls himself “an interloper in a world I don’t know well”) is hard to believe. On the other hand, his naïveté is what makes the exhibit the fascinating show it is: an outsider’s perspective of wine’s presence in American society.

“Wine has become something that so many people enjoy and think about to a degree that’s unprecedented,” says Urbach. “This incredible spike of interest caught my attention, especially in the way wine has produced a distinctive visual culture in the last 35 years.”

Visitors to the show can expect just that—a visual depiction of wine that’s surprising and fascinating. The smell gallery is an especially interesting feature because it allows you to experience wine’s various aromas. There’s even a recreation of the aromas of a 1976 Penfold’s Grange Hermitage, which was created by an artist who worked with paint with microencapsulated scent. In the media alcove, “people can watch excerpts from TV, film and Web sites dealing with wine,” says Urbach.

One particular painting stands out most: a life-size, illuminated tableau depicting the historic Paris tasting modeled after Da Vinci’s Last Supper. Nearby, the gallery of wine labels is categorized by style and includes Cheeky, Fuzzy Animals, Instructive and Meteorological, to name a few. Its goal is to not only showcase the complexity and creativity involved in graphic design, but also how vintners adopt different images to express a price point or variety. There’s even a gallery on the role of tastemakers, such as sommeliers and wine critics, in fashioning popular tastes.

Admittedly, the exhibition is text-heavy and requires a lot of reading—which Urbach felt was necessary in conveying the message. “Wine is not an easy subject for an exhibition,” he says. Whether How Wine Became Modern will be appreciated by more than just the wine-savvy remains to be seen.

San Francisco Museum of Modern Art
151 Third Street, at Mission (near Moscone Center)
Through April 17, 2011

Published on November 19, 2010