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Premier je suis, Second je fus, Mouton ne change

Post #1299 • February 20, 2009, 9:21 AM • 85 Comments

The grander prizes in the world of art don't much entice me. I know who has won them over the last few decades, and I don't consider myself even to be working on the same problem in many cases. But this morning I found something to covet when I learned from Artsjournal that a playful little drawing by Lucian Freud now adorns Château Mouton Rothschild 2006.

The commission, for Mouton's 2006 vintage, was announced yesterday at the opening of an exhibition of previous labels at the Wolfsonian-Florida International University, on view through March 8. Château Mouton Rothschild has featured an original artwork every year since 1945; previous artists include Miro, Chagall, Braque, Picasso, Dali, Warhol, Bacon, Haring, and Balthus.

And many other worthies besides. Oh, this I would quite enjoy. Although no oenophile like some of this blog's regular readers, when I want to alter my state chemically, I choose wine. We've made a habit of dropping by the local wine shop once a week and it certainly introduces a disproportionate amount of civilization into the house for the price, even on our limited budget. I learned to drink in Italy, which means I only drink when I'm eating, and I like how wine interacts with food, especially cheese-laden Italian food. (Cocktails do nothing for me, I've found, with one exception - bloody marys. Especially now with the easy availability of pepper vodkas. Yum.) Consequently, I don't know French wines well, but we'll just have to drink our way to familiarity.

The article doesn't mention it, but Freud based his drawing on an early surrealist work (for which I can't come up with better than this for an online image). The lighthearted approach seems traditional, or at least precedented, as the Raymond Savignac label of 1999 indicates. Even the 1990 Francis Bacon looks pleasingly silly.

I haven't felt this inspired to plug away in the studio in weeks. A label on Château Mouton Rothschild! What glory! It will likely never come to pass, but at least the effort to get familiar with the subject will be pleasantly expended.




February 20, 2009, 10:02 AM

Uh, OK. I guess.



February 20, 2009, 10:24 AM

I've always thought the track record of those labels is rather spotty. For instance, the Miro works, the Bacon (way too self-conscious for the purpose) doesn't work visually with the rest of the label, and, though the Picasso works alright with the label, it's a rather academic Picasso. Do it, man! Delightful!


Chris Rywalt

February 20, 2009, 10:27 AM

Finally, something to aim for.



February 20, 2009, 11:20 AM

You know, Franklin, not to be a spoilsport or anything, but one of Britto's main claims to fame is stuff like designing for Absolut vodka. I know vodka is not Mouton Rothschild, but still, I wouldn't get too carried away with this sort of thing. It's at least faintly tacky.



February 20, 2009, 11:28 AM

Tacky? All about attitude of approach, frame of mind, how it's carried out. Wine label, canvas on museum wall, long as it works and contributes, who cares?



February 20, 2009, 11:30 AM

making something for a wine label is an illustration job not an "art" job.

Being a dedicated formalist, the first thing I would do with such a charge is to think up some way to make something that fits in with the bottle, the label and the the spirit of the thing.

That's the real job, and that's why the Savignac - who is a great French illustrator - is so much better under the circumstances than the Picasso.


Chris Rywalt

February 20, 2009, 11:46 AM

I'd posit that making something FOR a label is illustration, but that making something THAT WILL BE DISPLAYED ON a label could be art. I mean, the original could be art, and the label just a copy, like a photo of a painting in a book.

Anyway, it's just for fun. That's the beauty of it. Take a really serious artist -- Francis Bacon, my lord -- and let them do something goofy for no good reason other than good wine.

It's called being playful, Opie. I'm sure you remember how somewhere deep in that hoary cranium of yours.

Tim: Are you sure you're a stained glass artist? Aren't you guys supposed to be, I don't know, a little traditional? "Who cares?" Really?



February 20, 2009, 11:51 AM

Why does a label have to be an "illustration job"? Miro's label illustration? Hmmm... Savignon great? Hmmm... One man's tacky is another man's whacky... or something like that.



February 20, 2009, 12:00 PM

Chris, I don't know what a "stained glass artist" would be. Traditional? Stained glass is one incidental medium among many. Like all the other media, it's all over the place as far as I can tell.

Your take on wine labels is exactly what I mean by attitude of approach. 'Preciate the clarification.



February 20, 2009, 12:19 PM

Savignac, I mean, sorry.


Chris Rywalt

February 20, 2009, 12:24 PM

Tim, I personally was bowled over by your Website, not just because the work looks good, but because I've never known anyone who works in stained glass. It seems very cool to me.

I'd just assume that anyone working in stained glass would be a traditional kind of person. There's a lot of craft and trades involved. As opposed to oil painting, which you can pretty much start without any training at all, not even reading a book.

Also I'd assume stained glass takes a measure of patience and evenness lacking in, well, most of the dopes who end up in art.

I may just be biased, though.



February 20, 2009, 1:04 PM

Chris, yes, often commissions require an approach that would be thought of as traditional. A lot of people making stained glass windows wish that would change. It's interesting that often 'traditional' means 'illustrative,' sort of like what Opie was pointing out with wine labels. But stained glass has been taken into areas I think you'd be surprised to see.

Interest in the traditional seems to come and go. To see some of what people are doing these days in stained glass, I recommend looking at the Derix Studio website. Very fine things there, dramatic, way outside the traditional box.

Funny, I think of oil painting of any consequence as a craft. Maybe that's my bias.



February 20, 2009, 1:06 PM

Oh, and thanks, Chris, for the generous comments about my website.



February 20, 2009, 1:06 PM

"making something for a wine label is an illustration job not an "art" job." OPIE
...Have you been "Cotter"ized recently?

I'll take Milton Glaser: "ART IS WORK"


Chris Rywalt

February 20, 2009, 1:29 PM

Maybe there's craft in oil painting "of consequence," but to start you don't need any craft at all. You can make it up as you go along. Stained glass, I imagine, would fall apart if you tried that.


Chris Rywalt

February 20, 2009, 1:30 PM

FRC: An illustrator would say that, wouldn't they?



February 20, 2009, 1:44 PM

"...when I want to alter my state chemically, I choose wine."

I suppose I'll just have to aspire to something along the lines of Dr. Dre's design for Zig Zag rolling papers... but, I'll still join you for a glass of wine, or a bloody mary, Franklin.

I prefer the Miro to the Savignac, myself, but have to second Opie's motion: if the point it the label, then as a formalist, you have to recognize what the job of label design requires; understand, you are making a label on a bottle, not a painting on a wall, and follow the dictates of your medium accordingly.

A pretty comprehensive image collection of the wine labels is here. The images that integrate with the form of the existing label work best, unsurprisingly, and the one where an artist has a separate, rectangular-format painting shrunk and reproduced on an otherwise unrelated wine label look, well, just like that.



February 20, 2009, 1:52 PM

Chris, I see what you mean, and there are certain "rules" to follow in fabricating a conventional leaded glass window so that it will stand up. That is, though, the tradesman's part of that work. Sort of like hiring one's canvases stretched and prepared.

Ahem... Illustration usually requires a context beyond itself for it to be understood, so usually, it cannot stand alone, as an autonomous work. A good Matisse (for instance), stands alone and is its own context.

MC, precisely!



February 20, 2009, 1:55 PM

Thanks for that link, MC. That '83 Balthus is pretty unfortunate. "Chateau Mouton is sure to reduce your favorite preadolescent charge to luxuriating nudity!" Not as bad as that '89 Baselitz, though. "Chateau Mouton: Our estate was recently overtaken by anthrax!"



February 20, 2009, 2:04 PM

"That '83 Balthus is pretty unfortunate. "Chateau Mouton is sure to reduce your favorite preadolescent charge to luxuriating nudity!""

Roman Polanski's drink of choice...



February 20, 2009, 2:07 PM

I guess that should be '93, actually...



February 20, 2009, 2:09 PM

The work at Derix Studio looks interesting. I've followed Judith Schaechter's work since I saw a couple of pieces at the 2002 Whitney Biennial. BTW today's Daily Routines entry quotes author Michael Lewis on inspiration: I don't believe the muse visits you. I believe that you visit the muse. If you wait for that "perfect moment" you're not going to be very productive.



February 20, 2009, 2:12 PM

I've met Judith, and she's awesome. Fan of as well.


Chris "Goin' Clubbing" Rywalt

February 20, 2009, 3:26 PM

Michael Lewis sounds like a Jack London quote I cycle through on my blog: "You can't wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club."


Chris Rywalt

February 20, 2009, 3:30 PM

See, an improperly made oil painting will fall apart after a few years. An improperly made stained glass window won't even hold together in the first place.

Still, I see what you're saying. Also, though, I think there's a matter of approach: I doubt anyone just jumps into stained glass for the heck of it. You have to want to do stained glass.

Back to wine labels: My main problem with wine labels is, I know so little about wine that when I go to buy some I end up picking it based on the label design, and that's just wrong. Because, really, who cares what the label looks like? It could be scrawled on a Post-It and slapped on an old repurposed screw-top bottle of Budweiser. If the wine's great, the wine's great.

I don't really like wine that much anyhow. And I'm not supposed to drink alcohol or, due to a couple of the medications I'm on, my liver will leap from my body and explode.



February 20, 2009, 3:32 PM

Chris & Tim, please don't buy into the unfortnate habit of applying value distinctions on words that don't imply them.. Art and Illustration are definitions, not value distinctions.

Chris, I think if you will read what I said that my hoary old cranium was suggesting. at least by implication, by pointing to the Savignac, that fun was exactly what most of the "art" labels lacked.


Chris Rywalt

February 20, 2009, 3:32 PM

Re: Judith: Wow. Someone makes Juxtapoz work in stained glass. That's wacky.



February 20, 2009, 3:39 PM

Hovig, you can wait for the muse as long as you are working while you wait.



February 20, 2009, 3:49 PM

Value distinctions? Moi? If I can figure out what is being referred to, I'll take it under advisement. I certainly don't need any more unfortnant habits. But, since the question of values is so subjective, I expect to continue posting comments which, whether I intend them or not, will be understood as value distinctions. Besides, what's the big deal?


Pretty Lady

February 20, 2009, 6:02 PM

Hey Tim! I grew up in Fort Worth, Texas, and my family still lives there. Those windows you did for Congregation Beth El are gorgeous. I got to tour the building when it was just finished, even though I'm not Jewish. Small world!



February 20, 2009, 6:15 PM

Pretty Lady, thank you. Isn't that building unusual? The same architect designed the public library next to it. He grew up in a house that was on that land when it was just open fields. A very special project where all the players had the luxury of abundant time. Small world indeed! I always have a fine time in Ft. Worth. You know the Kimbell Museum, the Amon Carter, and the others, the Cliburn Competition, etc, etc. People are always surprised at the cultural life in "Cowtown" and the Metroplex in general.



February 20, 2009, 6:23 PM

Tim, this is a point we have been through many times here, but you a recent contributor so I will go over it again.

Your #8 says:

"Why does a label have to be an "illustration job"? Miro's label illustration? Hmmm... Savignon great? Hmmm... One man's tacky is another man's whacky... or something like that."

This statement bears the strong implication that "Illustration job" was a put down, that it carried a negative value judgement.

It did not.

As MC pointed out in #17, it is simply recognition of what is there to be done. A wine bottle label is not a good place for a work of art (because it is small, in the round, subservient to the whole object, and will be taken for an illustration anyway) but it is a very good place for an illustration which conveys information, is fun, etc. So if given a wine label to work on it seems like the right thing to do is think "illustration" rather than "art"

I don't care for the Miro as much as MC does, partly because the vehicle of presentation is not appropriate. The Savignac is, and I like it better. This is a taste matter, and I am not interested in arguing it.

You can see illustration as art of course. You can see anything as art if you want to. You can see art as illustration; in fact much art being done right now is basically iullustration, and pretty bad illustration at that.

Savignac is not a great artist but he is (or was - I haven't followed his work in decades) a great illustrator. That statement is a evaluation within catagories, not a value judgement between categories. That would be another discussion.



February 20, 2009, 6:58 PM

Me, I like the big red circle in the Miro, which is like looking into a wine glass. I know that the Mouton sheep is appropriate, but somehow the woolly hoofed animal just doesn't make me thirsty (and lacks the air of seriousness I might otherwise associate with what is no doubt a pricey bottle of plonk), and I've never even been to Italy, so I can take my wine with or without food (besides, eating usually spoils my appetite).



February 20, 2009, 7:07 PM

I had to post this here, because both the Fairey and Darwin thread comments are closed...

Not Ron Paul, but pretty damn good.



February 20, 2009, 7:41 PM

Opie, I see illustration and "art" as apples and oranges. I didn't understand you to be making a value judgement, though I wouldn't have had any problem with it if you had been. As for a wine label or an underwear label or whatever label, that's as good a place for illustration or "art" as any if it's effective.

Now, I'd like to sing a little song that we like to sing out here on the prairie: "Don't fence me in..."




February 20, 2009, 8:02 PM

Well, I'm sorry, but that Francis Bacon label makes me think of the movie "Alien," and I do not want any such thoughts when I'm about to drink some very expensive wine. I mean, what were the wine people thinking? Sometimes, no matter how big the name, it's not the right person for the job. What's next, an Anselm Kiefer label?



February 20, 2009, 8:39 PM

I want to see Boib Ross label, with a Happy Little Grape.

Very good, MC. Very intelligent design.



February 20, 2009, 8:58 PM

Boib Ross is/was a happy little grape.



February 20, 2009, 10:27 PM

Tim since we are all being buddy buddy round here I was wondering what you meant when you left the comment, "How does it feel to be dead?" over on my blog. Care to share?



February 20, 2009, 10:54 PM

I confess that I don't know what you are referring to, eageageag. What's your blog?



February 20, 2009, 10:55 PM

Tim if all you meant was that you hated my blog or comics that is fine. Who cares. But I was just wondering if there was anything else going on.



February 20, 2009, 11:01 PM

eageageag, are you going to tell us your blog?



February 20, 2009, 11:05 PM

Click on the url.



February 20, 2009, 11:18 PM

OK, eageageag, I checked your url and I can't find what you're referring to, and I'm not gonna spend a lotta time looking.



February 20, 2009, 11:36 PM

I deleted your comment because I thought it was a death threat. Obviously you can't remember a thing so why don't we drop it.



February 20, 2009, 11:42 PM

Death threat? You're VERY mistaken. Good luck.



February 20, 2009, 11:50 PM

Tim just so I don't seem completely crazy I will state this: Last week you left the comment I mentioned above on my blog. You left it on an entry for a stupid comic I did about the impact an individual's belief system should have on their art. You left your URL and I checked it. I saw your stained glass stuff. So I know it was you. I really don't give a crap but it is strange that you have absolutely no recollection of leaving the comment. I won't bring it up again. Goodnight everyone.



February 21, 2009, 12:32 AM

eageageag, I wish I could help you. Weird. Would a death threat have come complete with contact info? Hope you get it figured out, and if I can help, let me know.



February 21, 2009, 12:43 AM

"How does it feel to be dead?" is not free from ambiguity Tim. That is why I asked you about it. I asked you about it when you left the comment on my blog, but after letting it sit for 24 hours I deleted your comment and my comment but left the post intact. No big deal. Sorry for bringing it up. Later...



February 21, 2009, 8:26 AM

Enough, guys. Continue by email if you must.



February 21, 2009, 12:22 PM

One can go to

and see all of the Mouton label art on one page. It is an interesting survey.

The early artists mostly stuck to a wine & grapes & revelry theme. Some later pix are strong graphically but have nothing to do with the subject. Some (many) of the artists drawings are clever but weak as drawings. Many do not harmonize at all with the format or idea.

Frankly, the simple Savignac "mouton" (sheep) kicking the number nines (1999), with its simple, bright colors and white space, is fresh, appropriate and delightful and altogether superior to most of the "great artists" work.

Unfortunately, this all takes me back to the good old days when I could buy a Mouton Rothschild 1961 for $25, and did, often, and in some quantity. God knows what it would cost today.



February 21, 2009, 1:46 PM

I'm no god, but I did go out to dinner last night to celebrate my Dad's birthday, and the wine list featured a Mouton Rothschild '82, priced at a mere $1350 US.
Naturally, I just had to get a bottle...

... of beer.



February 21, 2009, 2:45 PM

Opie, yes, the Savignac is charming, especially the goat's grin, the silly grass... You're right, I had to get past my taste to get the charm of it. Some of the more stylish of those labels don't hold up to a second look. Thanks for the persistence.


Bunny Smedley

February 21, 2009, 2:53 PM

Fascinating stuff.

If there's someone with a bottle or two of '83 in the cellar, could you perhaps identify for me the two objects in the 'sky' above that tiny figure in Saul Steinberg's offering?



February 21, 2009, 4:01 PM

And that was an '82, MC. The '61 won't be on many wine lists anywhere. I used to have a couple of cases. (Sob!)

Bunny, the images are too small to see clearly but my suspician is that they are the medal of classification from 1855 and the seal of reclassification of 1973.

Bordeaux wines were "classified" (ranked) into 5 "growths" in 1855. The first growths, deemd the best, were only four: Lafite, Latour, Margeaux and Haut-Brion. Mouton was a second growth but was always felt to be as good or better than some of the first growths (especially Margeaux, which is a lighter-bodied wine than the others) and finally in 1973 it was reclassified as a first growth.

I suspect that Steinberg's 1973 label is celebrating this in the landscape with a figure (Baron Rothschild, I suppose) by turning the award insignia into the sun and the moon, which would be a typical Steinberg thing to do.



February 21, 2009, 4:13 PM

Well, "Mouton ne change", so I guess one's as good as another...


Bunny Smedley

February 21, 2009, 4:18 PM

Thanks, Opie - that makes huge amounts of sense, in terms of Steinberg's practice (in the sense that the image is, then, indeed quite a pleasing one) as well as the estate's history.

Meanwhile I am trying not to envy you those cases of '61 too much. Or rather, I am reminding myself that, once upon a time, USD 25 was quite a lot of money! For instance, my first typewriter, which was the first 'important' thing I ever bought for myself, cost about USD 29 in, I guess, 1986 or thereabouts. And fair enough, it was a manual one, and I still had to buy ribbons for it, as well as paper ...

Of course, had I bought a case of Mouton Rothschild '61 at the time, that probably would have been even more fun. Hindsight, eh?



February 21, 2009, 4:41 PM

According to the inflation index $25.00 around 1968, when I was collecting wine, would be about $150.00 today, but it really did not feel the same.

I remember that it was painful to pay that much, but that was about the most I ever paid for any wine, and the same bottle to day would retail somewhere over $2000, if you could find it. And you would have no guarantee how it had been kept.

When the Yuppies got into wine and drove the prices up I couldn't stand to open something worth all that money any more and I sold the whole cellar. It was sad but very profitable.



February 21, 2009, 5:01 PM

A whine from the seller of wine from the cellar...



February 21, 2009, 7:14 PM

Excellent, MC



February 21, 2009, 8:22 PM

Well, when the Yuppies got into wine, they didn't drive prices up nearly as badly as when the rich idiots got into art. You know, sometimes I think rich people should only be allowed to buy certain things if they can prove that they truly appreciate and understand what they're buying. Maybe Obama can help with that...



February 22, 2009, 11:18 AM

Well I am glad that has got you inspired. I have to agree that the top honors rarely attract me, largely because I do not respect the artists that have achieved them. But to stand in the ranks you suggest would be an honor indeed.



February 22, 2009, 1:43 PM

Extra! Extra! Read all about it! Contemporary art is a fraud.

Well, whoda thunk it?...



February 22, 2009, 2:09 PM

Where have these guys been? Why did they sit by and let it go so far? And, now, like they're telling us something we don't already know! They got some signal somewhere that it's now alright to speak up. Slow art news week or something. That might be my paranoia.



February 22, 2009, 2:41 PM

So is Ms. Buck aptly named or what? Geez I'm tired of so much crap...but I still don't really blame the (con) artists, at least not primarily. If enough people practically beg to be suckered, they're sure enough gonna get suckered. It's inevitable.

I suppose the most culpable, the most reprehensible and contemptible, are the ostensible gatekeepers, the supposed connoisseurs, those whose job it is to tell the wheat from the chaff--and keep the chaff where it belongs. To say they've betrayed their responsibilities is putting it mildly.



February 22, 2009, 2:59 PM

So MC, the guy makes his big Pronunciamento and you think, wow! Here's a rich dealer who is willing to blast the market!

Then you read further:

"He added that he doesn’t think any artist since Francis Bacon had pushed art forward. The last notable artists were Lucio Fontana and Yves Klein, he said."

Good grief!

You know, this recession/depression is going to flush out a lot of shit and get people whining about "value", but as long as eyeless rich idiots exist there is more shit on the way.



February 22, 2009, 3:07 PM

I expect Nahmad is mostly out to dump on the competition at what appears to be an opportune moment. I don't doubt he's perfectly happy to sell a lousy late Picasso for major money to some rich idiot who's willing to pay for what amounts to a fancy autograph. In other words, he's definitely not St. George coming to slay the dragon for the sake of righteousness.



February 22, 2009, 3:20 PM

Opie, Jack, others, so why not operate outside of the arena of the blind rich and shit? Why even pay attention to that? I always end up wondering what any of that has to do with what I'm up to. What am I missing re all of the complaining about the existance of the blind rich and shit?



February 22, 2009, 3:25 PM

I guess you are not missing it if you are reading about it, Tim.



February 22, 2009, 3:42 PM

Opie, in fact I haven't been reading about it at all to speak of. I'm aware of the rampant mischief and knavery in the art market, but have never been able to relate what I'm doing to any of it, which is why, left to my own devices, I haven't pursued it. Obviously a lot of attention is paid to it on this blog, and that's what I'm curious about.



February 22, 2009, 3:54 PM

OK, then keep reading. We are just having fun poking fun at the art market. You don't have to relate it to anything.



February 22, 2009, 4:21 PM

Oh, fun. I hadn't understood it that way. You're right, I'm new here. Pardon me.



February 22, 2009, 5:05 PM

caro has to be a millionaire though, many times over i would think.



February 22, 2009, 5:18 PM

"Opie, Jack, others, so why not operate outside of the arena of the blind rich and shit?"

You mean, make, say, sculpture, in, say, Edmonton? Why didn't I think of that!?!

Of course, Damien Hirst and all that jizz, er, I mean jazz, has nothing to do with what I do, but that is what is published in the news, and I, like others, read the news, with an interest to see what the media thinks art is all about. It is interesting to note a shift when it occurs. But if the good stuff is suppose to be Fontana, or whatever this dealer is peddling, then, again, it has nothing to do with what I do, it is tr

It does make for water-cooler conversation, though...

I was more interested to hunt down the Caro article that they refer to, which I had missed...



February 22, 2009, 5:34 PM

I see. Thanks.



February 22, 2009, 7:05 PM

... it is trUE.

1, that's exactly what I was thinking... does he just mean he doesn't have one million pounds in cash in the bank? Or, was he heavily invested with Bernie Madoff?...



February 22, 2009, 7:13 PM

Once more, hot off the presses: a scientific explanation of art...


Chris Rywalt

February 22, 2009, 7:30 PM

Not art, MC. Design. The guy stresses that.

He gets extra points for quoting Stendhal.



February 22, 2009, 8:08 PM

Caro is no doubt well off, but sculpture (especially big stuff) is always a harder sell than 2-D work, in part because it's rather more problematic in terms of logistics. It's never been as popular with collectors, meaning there's a significantly smaller buying audience. I'm pretty sure somebody like Freud, let alone Hirst, is better off financially.



February 22, 2009, 8:16 PM

This fellow Brock is one more who wants to pin the butterfly, wriggling, to the specimin card.



February 22, 2009, 11:07 PM

Yes, Jack, you're absolutely right... not to mention the vastly increased costs of an enormous industrial studio and the costly materials and technical staff needed to make the work itself, compared to what, say, your average painter might have to contend with.

Still... Caro not a millionaire? I suppose if he's reinvested his earnings into his continuing career, he mightn't have the cash on hand, but his studio in London has got to be worth a pretty penny indeed.



February 23, 2009, 2:36 AM

I lost all respect for Niall Ferguson when I read this nonsense from him years ago...



February 23, 2009, 7:49 AM

I don't get it MC. This ie pretty mild as far as religion-content things go, and it is mostly statistics.

BTW I don't think we should get into politics & religion here - not much, anyway.


Chris Rywalt

February 23, 2009, 5:05 PM

I thought it was funny that Ferguson brought together art and wine just like we're doing here.



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