Hard Truths: Can a Sommelier Help the Art World Evolve Beyond ‘Grape-Flavored Toilet Water’?

With a world in crisis and an art market spinning out of control, ace art-world consultants Chen & Lampert deliver hard truths in response to questions sent by Art in America readers from far and wide.

In my journey as a sommelier, I’ve worked in fine dining in New York City for over a decade. I began dating an artist last year and now regularly attend gallery openings and even museum galas.  Exploring this new scene reminds me of the rarified culinary world in many ways. One thing that drives me crazy is that you can have multi-million-dollar art on the wall and billionaire guests, but the wine they serve at events is the equivalent to grape-flavored toilet water—a very poor pairing indeed.  It hurts my taste buds and does not enhance my appreciation of the art. Why doesn’t the art world care about something so important and beautiful as wine?

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We are sorry to hear about your corked experience with art wine. Though the selection might come off as an afterthought at these events, the ubiquity of bunk cheap vino you have encountered has everything to do with the arid, inhospitable, and disease-prone terroir of the art world. Instead of elegantly balanced libations with floral notes, you have been served ashy “Two-Buck Chuck” decanted in an old Converse sneaker by a scowling bartender. Truthfully, nobody really drinks the wine unless you are a young guzzler prowling for a free buzz. Most are just sipping away the pain of being at an awkward art event by donning a pair of rosé-colored glasses. Next time, rather than fretting about spitting or swallowing museum shart-donnay, consider drinking the art Kool-Aid at these celebrations instead.

I’m a preservationist who took a job at a major archive last year. I was thrilled to work with my boss, who is prominent in the field, but it only took a month to realize that he’s a raging egomaniac. He talks to colleagues in our department as if he is an unimpeachable expert, even though we are all highly trained technicians doing the detailed work that he credits himself for at conferences and public talks. In those situations, he boasts so much about himself and his process that it actually diminishes the artists whose work we preserve. He needs to be reproached by his superior, and I plan to call him out to our director because his attitude and demeanor reflect poorly on our institution. How should I approach this?

Back in the day, it paid off to tell your teacher when the class bully was flicking boogers or calling you names having to do with pee-pee parts. Children are nature’s fiercest narcs, and it is only through social ostracization and playground beatdowns that they learn how not to be baby bitches or whiney snitches. The last thing you expected as an accomplished professional is to find yourself going through pre-K again. Instead of leaning into your crayon-colored playbook, you must handle this situation with all the college knowledge and wellness podcasts in your adult arsenal.

If your boss is as much of a prominent prick as you suggest, then there is no doubt that his boss already knows it. We’re guessing you might be in an old boys club where the shine that your megalomaniac boss brings to the institution nullifies the director’s need to reign him in. Institutions prop up braggarts and big personalities because they desperately need to attract attention, funding, and audiences, and it’s necessary to have a public face who promotes the good work that your institution is doing. The trouble comes when the mouth on that face needs to be punched in the lips.

Before taking any next steps, find out if other team members feel the same as you do about this reprehensible restorationist. If so, form a coalition—otherwise it could come off like you’re pursuing a personal vendetta. Gather evidence that corroborates your point. Document the stupid things this creep says. If you are making specific accusations, support them with hardcore proof. How glorious would it be if you happened to capture your boss talking smack about the director to visiting archivists from Argentina? If the higher-ups try to shoo away your complaint, then your next best option might be quitting. Losing a high-profile position in a field that’s hard to crack sucks, but preserving your inner peace is more important than a bunch of old stuff rotting in a vault.

Your queries for Chen & Lampert can be sent to [email protected]

Source: artnews.com

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