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SFMOMA to Probe the Contemporary Culture of Wine in Exhibition

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SAN FRANCISCO, CA.- From November 20, 2010, to April 17, 2011, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) will present How Wine Became Modern: Design + Wine 1976 to Now. This exhibition explores transformations in the visual and material culture of wine over the past three decades, offering a fresh way of understanding the contemporary culture of wine and the role that design has played in its transformation. Organized by Henry Urbach, SFMOMA's Helen Hilton Raiser Curator of Architecture and Design, How Wine Became Modern marks the first exhibition to consider modern, global wine culture as an integrated yet expansive and richly textured set of cultural phenomena.

The story begins in 1976, the year of the now-famous Judgment of Paris. There, 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, later criticized and repeatedly restaged, the event released shock waves across the globe as it gave the nascent California wine industry, as well as winemakers in many other parts of the world, new confidence, credibility, and visibility. This, in turn, had multiple effects including the expansion of wine markets, growing popular awareness of wine, the birth of wine criticism, vineyard tourism, and a host of other manifestations. From this moment forward, the culture of wine began to accommodate and valorize new priorities such as innovation, diversification, globalization, marketing, and accessibility.

"In many ways," Urbach claims, "wine has become 'modern' as it re-imagined its own representation and joined itself to other forms of culture," including architecture, graphic and industrial design, visual arts, performing arts, and film. And it is here, he adds, "at this particular intersection between nature and contemporary culture, that the social meanings of wine reveal key issues of our moment, including the status of place and authenticity in a world increasingly structured by dematerialized, virtual experience."

The exhibition, designed by the renowned architecture studio Diller Scofidio + Renfro (DS+R), combines original artifacts such as architectural models and photographs with works of art, some newly commissioned, as well as multimedia presentations and interpretive text. Viewers will encounter artworks, objects, and information within immersive environments that engage multiple senses including smell.

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

Upon entering the exhibition viewers will hear the sound of clinking wine glasses, triggered by a simple motion sensor. To one side is a large, newly commissioned wall work by Peter Wegner that charts more than 200 house paint colors named for wine (varietals such as Cabernet and Pinot Noir; events such as Crush and Harvest). As Wegner demonstrates the diffusion of wine-related language into everyday life, he also calls our attention to the gaps that structure language and its relation to natural phenomena such as color.

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, DS+R will produce a life-size, illuminated tableau accompanied by sound to provide viewers with an immediate sense of the judge's gestures and comments. Along one edge of this gallery, a translucent wall offers visitors a tantalizing sense of the exhibition's final exhibit, a wall dedicated to the smell of wine.

Viewers pass behind the tableau to discover that the table represented in the image has become a display surface, one that recurs throughout the exhibition. In this gallery the concept of terroir is introduced, a theory of place that is fundamental to the culture of wine, the notion that distinctive, even unique qualities of soil and climate can be discerned in the character and taste 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 eighteen vineyards across the globe, the following elements: a small soil sample, real-time temperature and other microclimate data, maps of various scale, a clear bottle of wine, tasting notes, and a quotation from the winemaker about his or her understanding of terroir.

Worldwide Wine
A large map will be animated with data that demonstrates key transformations in wine production and culture over the past 30 years across the globe. This display, state-of-the-art and highly legible, will clarify what has happened to the world of wine in this period. Viewers will learn, for example, about the sharp decline in land dedicated to viticulture in Europe, the expansion of vineyards in new wine-growing regions such as Denmark and Brazil, the effects of political changes (such as the end of South African apartheid and the fall of General Pinochet), and other important developments.

In an adjacent gallery, viewers will encounter extended video debates between contemporary winemakers, wine consultants, and others with strong points of view about the nature and culture of winemaking today.

Terroir and Technique
A gallery will introduce visitors to contemporary imaging of vineyards, from the 'precision mapping' of heat and moisture across a plot of land, the result of a collaboration between Robert Mondavi and NASA in the 1970s, to 'harvest-eye scanning' that can assess the relative ripeness of grapes across a single vineyard. These maps, often stunningly beautiful, are equally surprising in their capacity to re-imagine the space of viticulture. A large, suspended vine and rootstock, their graft line presented at eye level, will address the hybridization of American and European rootstock over centuries as well as the more contemporary practice of grafting to address consumer demand for new varietals. An artwork by Nicolas Boulard produces a 1946 vintage of Domaine de la Roman,asmr8wine

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