Press Office Exhibition


Released: May 04, 2010 ·

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, and developed in close collaboration with interdisciplinary artists/architects Diller Scofidio + Renfro, 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, which was 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 has reimagined 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 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.

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


On entering the exhibition viewers will 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 will 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. Along one edge of this gallery, a translucent wall offers visitors a tantalizing glimpse of the exhibition’s final exhibit, the “smell wall.”


Viewers pass behind the tableau to discover that the table represented in Diller Scofidio + Renfro’s photomural has become a display surface, one that recurs throughout the exhibition. In this gallery the concept of terroir is introduced. Terroir, a theory of 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.

Worldwide Wine

Animated data visualizations developed by Robert Gerard Pietrusko and Stewart Smith will demonstrate important shifts in global wine production and consumption over the past 30 years. Viewers will learn, for example, about the decline in land dedicated to viticulture in Europe, the expansion of vineyards in “new latitude” regions, and the effects of media, popular culture, and political changes on land “under vine.” 

Modern Production

A small gallery juxtaposes Nicolas Boulard’s sculpture Nuancier Finement Boisé (Shades of Wood), which depicts a chromatic spectrum across 11 bottles of white wine, and Mitch Epstein’s photograph of the Opus One winery laboratory with a large vitrine stuffed with a selection of products used to make wine today. An Ox-Box, used to accelerate the aging of wine in the barrel, and Mega Purple, an additive used to make red wine darker, will be presented alongside packages of less controversial additives, including yeast, tannins, and oak beans. Quotations will help viewers situate these objects in the context of debates about how “natural” wine is or should be.

Terroir and Technique

A projection by Diller Scofidio + Renfro introduces a form of “precision viticulture,” highlighting the use of multispectral aerial photography and remote sensing technology to map vine growth and disease, a practice developed through a collaboration between Robert Mondavi Winery and NASA in the 1990s. 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. A second artwork by Nicolas Boulard presents, as if real, a 1946 vintage of Domaine de la Romanée-Conti, a vintage that never existed because of an outbreak of phylloxera that year.

Label Wall

Wine labels are charged with a unique challenge: to provide consumers with a sense of the liquid that remains, until the bottle is opened, entirely beyond reach. This exhibit gathers approximately 200 recent labels and organizes them within narrative categories, including: Good + Evil, Cheeky, Family, Femme, and Truth or Consequences.


Along with other aspects of wine’s visual and material culture, glassware has undergone a dramatic transformation. Decanters and carafes have been reinvented to increase their oxygenating effects and to intensify their expressive character. Likewise, the wineglass has been subject to ongoing formal investigation during this period; in addition to varietal-specific glasses, we now have glasses that tilt to facilitate smelling and glasses that claim to be porous to oxygen. Diller Scofidio + Renfro’s extraordinary vitrine contains a deep pool of dark red liquid—fed by a slow drip from the gallery’s 18-foot ceiling—to provide a lush and luminous backdrop for some 30 suspended wineglasses.

Architecture and Tourism

Over the past 20 years there has been an explosion of new winery and wine-related architecture around the globe. Scores of noteworthy projects have emerged recently, 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.

The exhibition will present contemporary winery and wine-related architecture at three distinct scales. First, a map of the globe will indicate where approximately 200 notable projects are found and will demonstrate areas of concentration. An intermediate scale of photographs with accompanying text will identify 34 of the most significant buildings. Finally, four buildings will be presented in depth: Clos Pegase Winery, Dominus Estate, Bodegas Baigorri, and the Hotel Marqués de Riscal. Each project will be presented with an architectural model and other materials.

Clos Pegase marks the starting point for more subsequent developments. 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. Three years later, the Centre Georges Pompidou organized two competitions for wineries, one speculative and the other to renovate Château Pichon-Longueville in Bordeaux. Together these events signaled wine’s effort to become “modern” by reaching towards contemporary architecture.

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. Riscal, by contrast, aims for maximum visibility as it sets, above a medieval village in the Rioja region of northern Spain, a miniature Guggenheim Bilbao, a tangle of polychromatic metal that contains, beneath its exuberant burst, a hotel and conference center for tourists as well as a spa specializing in grape- and wine-related treatments.

Nearby, Bodegas Baigorri (2003) by Iñaki Aspiazu Iza articulates a sophisticated approach to its site, the demands of wine production, and the visitor experience. A stark, nearly empty glass pavilion rests elegantly upon a mesa as, hidden from view, a subterranean interior of raw concrete and steel descends six stories to organize the production sequence with respect to gravity. A passageway alongside permits visitors to observe the action as they descend towards a tasting lounge and restaurant.

One wall of this gallery will contain a suite of newly commissioned photographs by Mitch Epstein. These works consider moments of social interchange in the Napa Valley, touching on matters of tourism, labor, and class. A facing wall includes Thomas Ruff’s photograph of Dominus Estate. A documentary film by Bêka gives access to a dining facility designed by Herzog & de Meuron for Château Jean-Pierre Moueix in Pomerol, Bordeaux, a place where workers dressed as American cowboys drink and celebrate during the period of intense labor that marks the harvest.

Projected on the end wall of this gallery, Dennis Adams’s SPILL follows the artist’s walk through Bordeaux, a full glass of red wine hovering perilously close to his immaculate white suit. Walking through the city, the artist recounts unpleasant historical moments such as the city’s role in the slave trade and Vichy France; Adams slowly loses composure as the red wine spills and stains him.

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 containing eight monitors will present a medley of images drawn from television, film, advertising, and YouTube. A large vitrine houses an extensive range of material to address three themes: tastemaking, wine education, and wine on the go. Artifacts include wine diet books and other print media (including the influential Japanese manga Kami No Shizuku [The Drops of God]), wine knowledge games, wine-inspired soft drinks, and others. A commissioned video work, Ritual Composition No. 1 by Marco Brambilla, weaves a matrix of images from the history of cinema focusing on the ritual clink of wineglasses.

Smell Wall

Diller Scofidio + Renfro’s inventive display draws viewers into an intimate encounter with the smell of seven wines, each held in a glass flask suspended from a translucent wall. 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 toward the fourth-floor north galleries, upon reaching an opening in the museum’s thick, cylindrical wall, they will discover 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.

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How Wine Became Modern: Design + Wine 1976 to Now is organized by the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. Major support is provided by Riedel. Generous support is provided by Stephanie and Fred Harman, The Jan and Mitsuko Wine and Art Educational Foundation, Helen Hilton Raiser, the Sonoma County Tourism Bureau, Thomas Weisel, and the Margaret and Angus Wurtele Family Foundation. Additional support is provided by Dolly and George Chammas; Bobbie and Mike Wilsey; Architecture + Design Forum; Pro Helvetia, Swiss Arts Council; Istituto Italiano di Cultura, San Francisco; Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation of Spain and the Embassy of Spain; Consulate General of Spain in San Francisco; The American-Scandinavian Foundation; Consulate General of France in San Francisco; and Consulate General of Switzerland in San Francisco.

Media sponsor: San Francisco magazine. Lodging and promotional support provided by Meadowood Napa Valley.

Jill Lynch 415.357.4172 jilynch@sfmoma.org
Clara Hatcher Baruth 415.357.4177 chatcher@sfmoma.org
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