November 9, 2006


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Got milk?

Fine art, supermarket wine
Exhibits always go better with booze
By Tim Protzman

I can’t really draw.

Even in junior high, my erotic graffiti was all stick figures. So I have this great respect for talented artists. Then suddenly two years ago, I felt compelled to create. My medium was driftwood, and I cleverly (at least I thought) glued sea glass, shells and other interesting flotsam to it. It looked very pretty, in a junior high-stick-figure way.

This weekend I had to work. We develop affordable housing and we’re doing some for artists. So I attended this Open Studio Weekend to unveil the schematic of our art lofts.

Saturday was a windy rainy day, but most of the artists had installed their work earlier. The venue was an old vacant middle school that had been found to contain toxic materials. (Sorry, class of 1989, you spent three years in the Love Canal of educational institutions.)

More than 200 artists participated. And if you’ve ever been to a gallery opening you know there are three things going on — art, wine and cheese, which is usually one of those polystyrene compartmented containers from Hannaford with orange cheddar cubes, Swiss cubes and that port wine stained cheese spread that’s kind of mushy.

At art shows, as with real estate, it’s all about location, location, location. My location for the architectural drawings was near the main door, which is usually good. But with a 60-mile-an-hour wind it become hard to keep my foam board pictures on the easels. So I moved into the hall, which cut down my visitor traffic. Now, flush with free time, I was able to circulate.

I wanted to see the art but I was more interested in the wine. I was sure I wouldn’t see any big pricey Bordeaux but I wanted to see if there was any correlation between the art, the artist and the wine they chose. What I discovered was: The more established the artist was (by which I mean profitable) the cheaper the wine and snacks.

One potter who did these really cool tea sets for $750 served cider and animal crackers. Some people had home-baked goods. Their art tended to be a little marginal. Maybe they should lay off the scones and spend more time on the painting. There was a lot of Yellow Tail, which to me means they just grabbed something off the self. There was soda. Mostly Pepsi for some reason. There were a few natural products like sparkling lemonade and apple juice. And there was plenty of wine. Since this was a work function I didn’t have any wine rookies with me so all the tasting notes are mine. I went from room to room. If I saw wine I went in. If I liked the art I went in. And if I saw bad art, bad drinks and bad food, I passed by.

Room # 402 — post-modern neorealism by Steve DiGiovanni; Ruffino Chianti ($17.99). No tannins, cherry flavor notes and smooth finish. Wine got a B, art got a B+. The perfect pairing of grape and linseed oil.

Janitor’s closet — a brief film by Simon S. O’Reilly. The film was slow and ponderously French, the wine was A-Mano ($7.99), made from the primitivo grapes in the Italian region of Puglia. The wine paired well with the Hitchcockian theme of the film.

The girls’ locker room — Erich Davis, artist. I can’t remember the art, but he served a big bottle, 1.5 liters, of Mezzacorona Pinot Grigio from the Delle Dolomiti area of Trentino Alto Adige ($12.49), with lemon and watercress flavors.

The lunch line cattle corral — Almaden Cabernet Sauvignon in a box ($9.99). Better than I expected, but the real treats were the miniatures by Elisa Vegliante. A Basquiat-meets-Norman Rockwell style, done on a plastic surgery theme.

The detention chamber — The artist, Matt Fletcher, works in acrylic and has an anime style. Whips, maces and gas masks adorned the walls of the room formerly used as a place of rendition for troublemakers. The wine, a Foxhorn Merlot, was watery with a tannic after bite. I suggested the perfect wine would have been Buehler? Buehler? Buehler?

There was no wine in the music room, only a totally naked woman standing on a table that had been draped in clay to make it look like a bed. There were no snacks either, but I did get to see my first-ever full Brazilian!

The social studies room — I was strangely drawn to one installation by Jordan Bishop which was made from paperwork accumulated during and documenting his psychiatric hospitalization. Of special interest were the 50 pill bottles. He was sharing the room with several other artists, one of whom brought a nice Beringer Chenin Blanc ($10.99), which tasted of pears, honey and vanilla.

The gym held more than 10 installations. Sarah Wellman had photos of Molise, Italy, and a god-awful El Paseo Sangria ($4.49). She’s well-traveled, a great photographer, financially successful and cheap. Brad Wollman teaches school in the inner city and does art. I can’t remember what he did but he gave me a nice cold Miller High Life ($3.77). Yrving Torrealba did black and white prints, with a Pointillist reference. His wine was a 2004 California Shiraz from Woodbridge. It had the requisite spice and peat, but still couldn’t escape the orbit of its $11.99-for-1.5-liters price.

Christian Uminga served the only French wine, a Marquis de Chasse Merlot from Bordeaux. Even though it had an Appellation d’Origine Controlee of Bordeaux Superieur it still said merlot on the label. Confusing.

Shop class — at the scene of many a traumatic amputation, nine artists gathered. One did wooden toy sculptures and played a dulcimer. One did some sort of performance art in a monkey suit, one had an erotic video installation and one worked in clay and made stuff that looked like the Sagrada Familia Catherdral in Barcelona. The wine was Chilean. Frontera Merlot from Concha Y Toro ($9.99) — an inexpensive Chilean merlot that had loads of cherry fruit and a well-balanced tannin. And Gato Negro, a cabernet sauvignon/merlot blend that was a bit less successful than the Van Gogh/Gauguin collaboration.

That night I mentioned the full Brazilian to Squiggy. Suddenly he had a new appreciation for art. We returned the next day and ran into an acquaintance, Ben Szemkus, who had a small exhibit in the Language Lab. He was doing the Toulouse Lautrec thing and was totally swacked. We went to see his installation. He was serving Carlo Rossi Paisano, which was surprisingly fruity and smooth. He invited everyone who entered to “have a shot of wine with me!” in a small sample cup. His roommate served a nutty, porty wine that tasted of tomatoes and kicked hard. It was Villa Armando and it was the closest thing to old-fashioned homemade wine I’ve tasted. We headed for the nearest stairs, full of cheap wine and Brazilians. As we left through a non-official exit we passed the teacher’s lounge where Kathy Smith was showing her amazing landscape paintings. She was neat, sober and successful. Her paintings started at $1,700. But she broke the mold because there in the middle of the room was the prerequisite cheese platter and a handle of Polar Ice chilled vodka. As me and Squiggs tipped an ice cold shot chased with Adirondack Blueberry Sparkling water I couldn’t help thinking: “This is just like the teacher’s lounge at my old high school."

Tell Tim your wine stories. You can reach him at

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