The AIC Explores the World of Wine

Posted in art by Anna on July 26, 2009

Today’s blogging adventure brought me to the Art Institute of Chicago for, after months and months of ooh-ing and ah-ing over the new Modern Wing, something completely and totally unrelated to the world of conceptual art or architecture!  This time around I stopped to check out the museum’s latest endeavor, an enormous exhibit about a beverage that, if the curators at the Art Institute are to be believed, makes the world go round—or, at the very least, has held a central position in multitudinous cultures practically since the dawn of time: wine.Kandler-Ewer_lg

My presumptions about the exhibit, entitled A Case For Wine, were incorrect from the start.  I assumed this exhibit would be about wine casks and how they’ve evolved over the centuries.  In retrospect, this was an oddly literal interpretation of the show’s title.  Nevertheless, upon realizing the exhibit was really more about how wine’s cultural role has evolved over the centuries, using art and decorative wine paraphernalia as a societal gauge, I sallied forth to see what the show had in store for me.

What it had, primarily, was an impressive collection of wine accessories displayed very tastefully, as well as several interesting facts.  But in all honesty, I felt like this exhibit focused more on the history of wine than on wine’s role in art or wine accessories as an art form.  This was the type of show one would refer to as “educational”—not necessarily a negative…just, not necessarily artistically focused, either.  However, to the AIC’s credit, the works—ranging from chalices, to bottles, to paintings, to viticulturally themed embroidery—were tastefully displayed in low-lit galleries, giving one the feeling that you’re in a wine cellar—a dignified, restrained setting that honors the wine.  The walls were painted deep grapey tones—ranging from rich, opulent burgundy to dark vine-colored green to dusty brown plum.  And, if the goal was to teach me about wine as a cultural staple through the ages, then goal accomplished, AIC!  Let’s wrap up this post by putting my educational experience at A Case For Wine to task.  Here are my top three fun facts gleaned from the exhibit:

  1. After the Reformation, Protestant churches melted down several elaborate Catholic ceremonial goblets into simpler, humbler serving cups.
  2. 19th century cartoonist and general socio-political snark Honore-Victorin Daumier apparently enjoyed mocking the wine community as much as he enjoyed mocking the rest of 19th century French society.  In the AIC’s exhibit, there are roughly ten lithographs by Daumier commenting snidely on class-relations, weather speculation, drunkenness, and any other social flaws that could possibly relate to the world of French wine production in the mid-1800s.
  3. While the AIC’s latest show may not be for everyone, wine, evidently, is, as the exhibit contains objects from all over the world, ranging from France to Egypt to China to Greece.  So, if you want to learn about wine, come to AIC.  Meanwhile, the rest of the world will be drinking it.

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