SINGAPORE – The tradition of alcohol in art extends far back into history and cuts across the world’s oldest cultures. One can find beer and wine depicted in mediaeval European tapestries, Egyptian tomb paintings and ancient cave art.
In modern times, alcohol brands have commissioned artists to produce marketing materials or design special-edition packaging.
Such collaborations allow both artists and alcohol brands to tap each other’s cultural heft and open themselves up to new audiences.
The Straits Times takes a look at two such partnerships.
The Ruinart Art Bar featuring David Shrigley
At the Art SG fair at Marina Bay Sands Expo and Convention Centre in January, one booth drew steady crowds: the Ruinart Art Bar by French champagne house Ruinart.
When The Straits Times dropped by, the space was packed with visitors checking out the eight works by British contemporary artist David Shrigley that were on display.
Shrigley had been tasked by Ruinart in 2021 to interpret the brand in his uniquely irreverent style, and produced 36 works that showcased the heritage and craftsmanship behind the making of the brand’s champagne, including the ones at Art SG.
The series, called Unconventional Bubbles, is a meditation on champagne production at a symbolic level, Shrigley tells ST.
“Just the fact that champagne is a living product and made from a plant that grows in the ground. It is subject to the elements – the soil, sky, weather, bugs that either destroy it or facilitate pollination.”
One of the pieces, Untitled #3, shows a person looking down at a tunnel. It is meant to represent the chalk quarries of the French city of Reims, where Ruinart champagne is aged.
Another work depicts a worm, one of the unsung heroes of champagne production because of its crucial role in enriching soil.
Agreeing to the collaboration was an easy decision, says the 54-year-old artist.
“I like making art and drinking champagne – two things I had to do in order to fulfil this project. I have always wanted to do a job where I am compelled to drink champagne, so at last I am happy.”
Ruinart – the world’s oldest champagne house established in 1729 – is no stranger to the art world. From as far back as 1896, Andre Ruinart, who was helming the brand at the time, commissioned a poster by Czech artist Alphonse Mucha in his inimitable Art Nouveau style.
Shrigley says: “I was familiar with Ruinart because the brand has a lot of visibility at art fairs. It’s well known in the art world and obviously produces very good champagne.”
That said, champagne, like art, has a reputation for being esoteric and accessible to only a few.
Shrigley adds: “The collaboration has given me the opportunity to learn something about the complex process of making champagne and make some art that addresses that, to find a way to say something about that process. It is a voyage of discovery. I had no expectations other than to learn something.”
He also notes the strong parallels between creating art and fine alcohol.
“Champagne making is a form of art. There is a certain magic to it, in which the microorganisms that make the bubbles create the critical element of the champagne. I like the idea that it is something made from nothing, that it has to be kept in darkness, and all these things happen in a cave found under the ground,” he adds.
While its partnership with Shrigley is largely done and dusted, Ruinart plans to continue being a patron of the arts.
In the years ahead, counting down to its 300th anniversary in 2029, it intends to commission a new artistic or architectural project every year at its headquarters in Reims, France.
The Kabuki Works Hatsu Release
Singapore sake distributor The Kabuki Works has collaborated with a group of local and regional artists for its first private label sake collection, the Hatsu release.
Three premium sakes from three different breweries in Japan’s Gifu prefecture have been selected to represent the area, which is historically known as the country’s sword-making centre.
Mr Reuben Oh, managing partner of The Kabuki Works, notes that the Hatsu Release was intended as a showcase not just of sake, but also of the Japanese history and culture through art.
“The art on the boxes depicts actual scenes from the civil wars of the 16th century, inspired by famous block prints depicting that era,” says the 28-year-old, who in 2021 was named Young Sake Ambassador of the Year by the London-based Sake Sommelier Association.
“For the art on the bottle, a local artist painted the backgrounds, while a Thai artist drew the historical characters who represent the great tales and battles of that time. We wanted to fit in work from lesser-known artists as much as possible.”
He adds that the three sakes were chosen not just to showcase Gifu while matching the preferences of drinkers in Singapore, but also to exemplify the historical characters depicted on the packaging.
“The kunoichi, a lady ninja, has a more elegant build, while the yamabushi, a mountain monk, is robust and has more character. Our aim is not just to tell a story through the product packaging, but for the customer to live the story themselves. We want the sake to be a gateway to Japan in every sense,” says Mr Oh.
The Kabuki Works is planning another release later this year, with a focus on famous women of Japanese history.
Info: The Hatsu Release retails at $400 a set (inclusive of delivery), comprising three sake expressions and two hand-crafted sake cups by a Gifu ceramist. Go to kabukiworks.com