We were standing talking to someone who we knew to be in the process of educating himself to be a wine snob. We mentioned to him that throughout our recent flight back from Europe we were liberally supplied with bottles of French wine by the stewardesses. Quick as a flash he retorted “What year?”
We told him that we had no idea. “Well, you need to be careful” he said, looking down his nose at us. “You need to check the year and the region” he went on “because some French wine of 1986 is contaminated by radiation from the Chernobyl disaster …… so because it officially can’t be sold it is given away on airlines.”
Shortly after we flew to France to meet with curator Blandine Chavanne at the Musée Poitiers, to discuss our contribution to a group show in the museum.(1) As we sat around a large table eating lunch and drinking wine we told her this story.
“Yes,” she said “it’s true that the wine from some regions of France was badly contaminated including, in fact, the region around here.”
So our proposal for the exhibition was for the museum to buy six bottles of local wine from the year of Chernobyl and six bottles of wine from the Frontline States (distributed and sold in support of the anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa.) These were to be displayed in two vitrines each with a brass plaque.
We also asked that the museum purchase enough of the African wine for the opening of the exhibition, rather than the usual French wine. She was extremely enthusiastic and found the contaminated wine, purchased the African wine for the opening and arranged for more to be on sale throughout the exhibition; thus raising funds for the anti-apartheid struggle.
The opening of the exhibition was a great success. It was crowded and noisy, with much drinking and lively discussion ….. not so much about apartheid, racism or Chernobyl, but about the wine.
Blandine remarked “This is amazing. It’s the first time that all the workers in the museum, administrators and curators, technicians and cleaners, have all attended an exhibition opening ….”
She went on “You see, in France, as a wine producing country, the government puts a very high tax on all imported foreign wine which makes it too expensive for most people …. so everyone has come to find out what the African wine tastes like.”
“And what do they think?”
“Not bad at all” she replied
(1) Resistances. Musee St Croix, Poitiers. 1990. Exhibition and catalogue incl. Absalon, Art in Ruins, Veronique Joumard, Serge Kliaving. Export/Strategic Defense Initiative text on Art in Ruins by Thomas Wulffen