Wine and art came together last week at London’s Royal Academy of Arts as Champagne Louis Roederer and renowned French designer Philippe Starck presented their inaugural Brut Nature prize.
In an eccentric ceremony hosted by the ebullient Starck (in psychedelic lime-green trousers), and Louis Roederer chief Frédéric Rouzaud and chef de caves Jean-Baptiste Lécaillon (more soberly attired), Argentinian artist Sofía Clausse was presented with a case of Brut Nature, £3000, and a visit to Louis Roederer in Champagne for her work Cycles.
Twelve students at the Royal Academy – the venerable 250-year-old gallery and art school in Piccadilly – were chosen to give their interpretation of Louis Roederer Brut Nature 2012, a new zero-dosage cuvée which the house developed along with Starck.
The 12 works were displayed in the RA’s life-drawing room, the 19th-century theatre on whose leather benches Academicians such as William Blake and Joshua Reynolds would have sat.
Rouzaud, introduced by Rebecca Salter, Keeper of the RA, said, “We are always fascinated by the arts. Indeed we work with the greatest artist – Nature.”
He went on to describe the “audace” (audaciousness) with which a winemaker seeks to interpret nature in the wines every year. “In Champagne we are not artists, we are contemporary artisans.” Roederer in fact has always allied itself to the arts, and has supported the RA for about eight years.
Before the ceremony guests sipped Brut Nature 2012 Blanc and Rosé and studied the works, which included sculpture, photography, and works on paper and canvas. After being chosen as finalists the artists had been introduced to the wine and Louis Roederer; the brief was that their work should reflect Champagne in some way, but they were given freedom as to medium and form.
Starck – who said Rouzaud and Lécaillon’s wanting to work with him was a bit like “the Queen teaming up with Johnny Rotten” – was a charismatic presence at the podium, at one stage conjuring a glowing red light from his fingertips, and giving a speech full of gnomic questions such as, “What is the test of emptiness?”. He and the Roederer top brass have an easy friendship; Rouzaud and Lécaillon frequently called him “genius” (with only a hint of Gallic irony), to his obvious delight.
Praising Clausse’s minimalist work, he said “It’s almost nothing, which is super-elegant. It’s a good way to speak about Champagne, which is almost nothing. It is a very talented and intelligent work because it got straight to the point.”
The designer didn’t pull his punches though. He was pointed in his criticism of some of the finalists (without naming them), who didn’t follow the brief. “There are rules in life. It’s more difficult to follow them – it’s not fun – but there is an order to creativity.”
Starck singled out two other finalists for special praise: Clara Halstrup for Self-portrait as a Champagne Fountain and Olu Ogunnaike for Tidally Locked. The former he loved for its sense of humour, the latter because it was “very, very surprising. We speak about the joy and light of Champagne, but this picture is very dark. It’s an oxymoron.”
The works were judged by Starck, Rouzaud, Lécaillon, Salter, RA curator Eliza Bonham Carter, Emma Redmayne, publisher of House & Garden and The World of Interiors, and Louisa Buck, editor of The Art Newspaper.