On Exhibit: Art, Drink and Be Merry

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Detail of Renoir’s Luncheon of the Boating Party

By Kelly MacConomy

In a recent issue of Wine Enthusiast, with Robert Indiana on the cover shortly before he passed, executive editor Susan Kostrzewa was fortunate to be able to interview the 20th Century pop art icon on the subject of art and wine. He spoke of his memories of time spent in the company of other Pop Art giants. One recollection involves production of the Warhol film “Eat”, based upon Indiana’s “Eat” sculpture commissioned for the New York World’s Fair in 1963. Bob Indiana set about fabricating a monumental feast for Warhol sure to impress Bacchus himself.

Warhol shows up to film the artist, presumably to be shot consuming the great repast. Or painting it. Warhol surveys the tableau. In an unimpassioned gesture he picks up a large mushroom and declares…. “This is all we need. Eat this really slow.” That in its entirety is the substance of the feature-length film “Eat”.

Muse is an ephemeral thing. Intangible. Gossamer. Existential. Wine like food has been a constant muse in art. Much like art, wine is a function of structure, color and process. Winemaking itself is a purely creative act- part experimentation, part artistry, part magic and mystery. With age, like great art, fine wine increases in value and appreciation.

Wine, beer and spirits have kickstarted the creative muse throughout time. The epic antics of the great expatriates Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Gertrude Stein, Jack Kerouac, Cole Porter, and jazz great Sidney Bechet, gathered about a cafe table at The Polidor or The Bricktop, partaking libations with Matisse, Picasso, Man Ray, Lautrec, Modigliani, Gauguin and Dali, make for legendary soirée storytelling. The famed Moulin Rouge celebrated in art, music, literature. film, and soon to be a Broadway show was a watering hole mecca for the Impressionists in turn-of-the -century Paris.

Perhaps the most beloved and famously depicted art soirée scene, aside from Warhol at Studio 54, is the Impressionist masterpiece “Luncheon of the Boating Party” by Pierre-Auguste Renoir. On permanent exhibit at the Phillips Collection in DC, the painting has been copied and coveted for decades. This past year the Phillips Collection had an exhibit devoted to Duncan Phillips’ acquisition of the painting from Renoir patron Paul Durand-Ruel’s sons upon his death. The painting iconizes the bon-vivant culture celebrated during the Fin-de-Siècle Paris. Rumor has it that 20th Century gangster movie star Edgar G. Robinson was so obsessed with the canvas that he is quoted as saying he spent 30 years making a pilgrimage to the painting fantasizing about how he might steal it.

Renoir’s Luncheon of the Boating Party. Courtesy photo.

The painting’s muse was a popular suburban Parisian hangout, La Maison Fournaise. Renoir was obsessed with the cafe on the Seine, using his friends, art contemporaries, famous actresses, even his wife and dog as models. He painted there frequently, smitten with the ambiance and its pretty patrons. It is the Petrus of paintings in Washington. It beckons opening a bottle and raising a glass to food, friendship and fun.

Da Vinci’s “Last Supper”, perhaps the most famous wine with dinner tableau in art history, is not on exhibit at the National Gallery but Salvador Dali’s “The Sacrament of the Last Supper” is, greeting visitors in the concourse between the east and west wings. It is the most popular piece in the National Gallery, replacing Renoir’s “A Girl with a Watering Can” despite the museum displaying several Renoirs and Da Vinci’s “Ginevra de’ Benci” portrait. The cup of Christ filled with wine, raised in resignation, the symbolic chalice celebrating faith and forgiveness in the face of mortality and betrayal, remains one of the most indelible images not only in art but humanity.

“Wine and Dine” gouache by Liz Uddiin at the Del Ray Artisans Photograph by Kelly MacConomy

Food, fine wine, and fellowship prove time and time again to be the engine of expression in all art forms- visual, musical, literary, even dance/movement and the defining points of a culture throughout the millennia. A recent exhibit focusing on ceramic pieces for the table paired with complementary two and three-dimensional artwork was the most recent show at the Del Ray Artisans on Mount Vernon Avenue. The “Eat, Drink and Be Merry” National Ceramics Show and Regional Art Exhibit opened September 7, curated by Stephen Lally.

National Ceramics Show “Eat, Drink and Be Merry” Tableware at the Del Ray Artisans Photo Courtesy of Del Ray Artisans

The exhibited ceramic artwork was in competition for awards sponsored by local Del Ray businesses such as St. Elmo’s Coffee Pub, Let’s Meat on the Avenue, Artifacts, Inc. Custom Framing, and Junction Bakery and Bistro. The ceramics exhibition was curated by Lisa York who studied ceramics and art at the University of North Dakota, Hood College, and Houghton College. She has been an artist-in-residence in China, Hungary and Germany. When in Tanzania, Lisa created a ceramics program that trains disabled people to be skilled artisans in craft making.

A popular trend at wineries and local wine businesses is paint and sip events or even imbibe-while-you-paint instructional classes. Most paint and sip events at area wineries involve a set fee which includes your canvas, a glass of wine, and providing art supplies to create your own version of a predetermined subject. Check area wineries, wine shops, and urban wineries for their paint and sip schedules. It’s a wonderful fall harvest diversion and souvenir of your Virginia Wine Month vineyard adventures.

If you can’t get out of Port City for the day or weekend, the local Wine and Design venue in the Belle Haven Shopping Center at 1506 Belle View Road provides not only painting-while-you-wine classes but also makes a perfect venue for birthday parties, baby and wedding showers, team building, girl’s night out…. even book club gatherings should you be reading Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, or something more colorful like 50 Shades of Gray.

“The Daisy Brunch” by Sherry Holden Mixed Media Acrylic From the “Eat, Drink and Be Merry” exhibit at the Del Ray Artisans. Photo by Kelly MacConomy

Recently the wine and design subject theme was donuts, proving that not only can you paint, drink and be merry, but that wine loves donuts! Book a class. Paint your own Warholesque homage “The Last Donut” or your impression of “The Luncheon of the Wine and Design Party.” You will thank us later.