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David Lissner
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Wine is art: Drink up this exhibit


Vincent van Gogh, “The Drinkers,” 1890.

Vincent van Gogh, “The Drinkers,” 1890.

The influence of wine on art and artists, and vice versa, seems so intrinsic that it’s surprising that no major art museum has focused on the libation until now. The Art Institute of Chicago’s current exhibition. “A Case for Wine: From King Tut to Today” showcases a broad array of some 300 wine-oriented items, from pots to paintings, displaying both wine as a subject of artwork and artistry in the service of wine from ancient through contemporary times.

The Art Institute has collected wine-themed items since its beginnings. An early European buying trip, in 1889, acquired several wine serving and storage vessels, including one of the Art Institute’s most famous classical pieces, the “Chicago Painter’s Vase” — a Greek stamnos, or wine jar, from about 450 B.C. — and, the following year, a purchase of Old Master paintings included Jan Steen’s “Family Concert,” which shows the audience drinking from Dutch wine flutes. A 1927 purchase of a European glassware collection included wineglasses from the 15th through 19th centuries.

“A Case for Wine” displays not only the museum’s extensive collection but a number of works borrowed from museum and private collections from across the country. Ten galleries full of wine decanters, paintings of drinkers, glassware, tapestry, sculpture and more, all testify to the enduring appeal of the fermented nectar of the grape.

The exhibition continues through Sept. 20 and is free with museum admission, $18. Admission is free from 5 to 9 p.m. on Thursdays, and Friday evenings through Labor Day. Chicago Public Library cardholders can check out a Museum Passport for free admission anytime.

Highlights of the exhibition’s related events include a tour with curator Christopher Monkhouse, at noon Tuesday, Aug. 25, free with museum admission; a talk by Monkhouse paired with a tasting of Terrazas de los Andes and Casa Lapostolle wines at Binny’s in the South Loop, 6 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 9, free (with registration and Binny’s Card — the card is also free); and a lecture by wine writer Benjamin Wallace based on his book “The Billionaire’s Vinegar — The Mystery of the World’s Most Expensive Bottle of Wine,” 6 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 17, free.

If the exhibits make you thirsty, the Art Institute’s new Italian restaurant, Terzo Piano, will serve you wine with your lunch from its floor-to-ceiling rack. You can also stop in for drinks and snacks on Thursday afternoons and dinner Thursday evenings. Through Labor Day, the museum offers a cash bar serving wine and cocktails in the Pritzker Garden from 5 to 8 p.m. Thursdays and Fridays, too.