It’s obvious enough in some of the packaging of wine, of course – from cutesy animals and bottles shaped like Table Mountain to the showy gilt pretentiousness of some expensive stuff – but is “kitsch” a word and a concept that is potentially useful in describing wine itself?
I think it is, and that it’s useful invoking such “aesthetic” concepts for wine, as it can bring our beloved beverage into the same categories used by other cultural products and thereby bring a new understanding to it. So, in the case of kitsch and wine, some of the developments in wine in the last half century or so can be seen as something more fundamental and interesting than, say, Old versus New World approaches.
Such musings were, anyway, the origins of an article I wrote some months back for that wonderful wine journal The World of Fine Wine. The initial thoughts occurred to me at the time that the National Gallery was (rather shockingly in my opinion) preparing a big exhibition on that famous painter of kitsch, Tretchikoff.I was reading something that Melvyn Minnaar had written on the subject for the catalogue, and was prompted to then re-read a famous 1930s article by Clement Greenberg called “Kitsch and the avant-garde”. It was that reading that led me to think more about some parallels with wine.
The World of Fine Wine editor has kindly given me permission to carry here a pdf version of the article. I must confess that while some readers have liked the article, some have found it rather heavy-going and difficult…. But here’s a link to it if you wish to try.