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Unfiltered: "Miss Grape Festival" to (Almost) Bare It All At Auction

Plus, Slow Food rocks San Francisco, London shuns a green chip shop, Church of England mulls wine bar business and French artist turns wine vessels on their heads

Posted: September 3, 2008

• To the untrained eye, California painter Mel Ramos' sexed-up portraits of unclothed women seem like they belong more between the covers of Playboy than hanging on a museum wall. But the enlightened folk of the art world assure us otherwise. Case in point: Ramos' "Miss Grape Festival." This 1964 oil-on-canvas, which Bonhams & Butterfields will auction off this fall, is part of a series that Ramos did which feature nude pinups posing with various and sundry products of California agriculture. To us, the painting of an unclad young lady holding a bunch of grapes to her face is a reminder that we apparently have been going to a very different set of grape and harvest festivals than Mr. Ramos. Tate Dougherty, Bonhams' director of contemporary art, has a more studied take: "[Ramos is] taking a look at the commercialization of everything in the postwar boom." Dougherty explains that there are multiple layers of references in the painting, from the Roman sculptures of naked gods and goddesses eating grapes, to the 19th century still lifes of fruit plates, to the campaigns from a Madison Avenue boardroom. The painting is expected to garner between a hefty $400,000 and $600,000 at the Nov. 11 auction. All in the name of art, right?

• How do you encourage someone to think about the origins of food they're eating? Apparently, you throw them a rock concert. At least that was the idea behind the two-day Slow Food Rocks music festival that took place at the Fort Mason Center in San Francisco over Labor Day weekend. Nearly 10,000 people attended the concert, one facet of Slow Food Nation, an event to promote the Slow Food movement, which focuses on community and environmental activism in the context of food production. The overall event also included panel discussions, a film screening, cooking demonstrations and lectures. Outside the concert, music fans and foodies mingled and tried different foods while listening to sets by Gnarls Barkley and Phil Lesh (formerly of the Grateful Dead) and Friends. It seems the fans weren't the only ones who were hungry, as headlining band Ozomatli was seen grazing its way through the Slow Food Nation Tasting Pavilion. In keeping with the concert's environmental and sustainable theme, no plastic water bottles were sold at the event, though a water truck was on hand to dispense free water to the crowd. Since Unfiltered likes to give advice about how music festivals should be run, we'll go ahead and suggest that next year, that truck be filled with locally-sourced California sparkling wine instead of water.

• In other news from the environmental front, Michelin-starred British chef Tom Aikens has recently lost a battle in his war to green his corner of the restaurant industry. On Monday, the chef shuttered his latest London restaurant venture, an upscale fish-and-chips shop in the affluent Chelsea neighborhood, called Tom's Place, which was built and furnished with recycled materials, served sustainably-caught or raised varieties of fish and made use of only local produce and English wines (less distance travelled, lower carbon footprint). According to Aikens' marketing spokeswoman, Maureen Mills, a handful of neighbors couldn't stand the constant smell of fish and chips frying and decided to "cause chaos." Further, the chef's request for permission to install improved extractor fans, which would have helped mitigate the odor issues, was rejected by the local zoning council. Those familiar with Chelsea may not be surprised at the nature of this conflict, given that petrol-guzzling SUVs are referred to nationwide as "Chelsea tractors."

And now, from London to the Midlands … During communion, the Church of England offers willing parishioners a symbolic sip of wine. Now, Birmingham Cathedral hopes to expand the practice into a business venture—by opening wine bars in area churches. The cathedral's new hospitality director, Mark Hope-Urwin, a former executive of the John Lewis department-store chain, recently began his new job and immediately floated the possibility of Church of England wine bars, decorated in "Episcopal purple" and featuring stained-glass windows, during a press conference officially announcing his appointment. "We're not trying to encourage drinking, but the cathedral has to engage more with the city, and find ways of meeting people on their territory," said Hope-Urwin. "Cathedral wine bars should be seen as a potential commercial operation with profits going into the upkeep of the building and paying for evangelistic work." As Unfiltered has long proselytized about the positive effects of a glass of wine, we give this idea our seal of approval.

• Some folks see the bottle half full, some half empty. French designer Matali Crasset envisioned a different bottle entirely for her upcoming exhibition, "In Vino Veritas," which will be shown at a gallery in Slovakia later this year. Crasset, whose past credits include boutique hotel interiors and a spell at Philippe Stark's design firm, set out to question the form of the wine bottle itself by toying around with different motifs on spouts, necks and holes in the bottles. As with most deconstructionism, some pieces work conceptually and others end up looking like an assemble-by-numbers gone awry. We get the one that's a bottle shape with a hole on the side and a purple cross sticking out—a straightforward-enough riff on communion. But others, like the roly-poly bottle on its side with two spouts instead of a base just seem like they would be messy in real life, much like these arty-yet-impractical glasses, and this whimsical decanter that seems like the best way to pour your wine everywhere but in your glass.

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