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Nicolas Boulard: art, food and wine.

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Nicolas Boulard: art, food and wine.
Today at Vinix we speak to Nicolas Boulard, an artist who uses food and wine in his art. He is the son of Francis Boulard, whom you all know as a great artisan Champagne maker. Recent works include DRC 1946, a production of several magnums of fake Romanée Conti made with coloured water, from a vintage that was never produced; and Specific Cheeses, a series of cheeses shaped to evoke minimalist art like the pyramid shapes of Sol Lewitt. It is unbelievable, but Specific Cheeses got him into trouble with INAO, the agency in charge of protecting food appellations of origin. You can see his works on his site

What got you started using wine and cheese in your art?

It was during my studies at École Supérieure des Arts Décoratifs in Strasbourg. I already had a conceptual approach, with requests for authorization to make art involving several clashes with various administrations, and part of my work as artist was evolving toward working outside of the usual gallery milieu, in the spirit of Land Art artists. The thesis of my diploma was the confrontation of artistic creation with norms and rules, and how artists set their own rules to make art. It helped that some of my professors appreciated wine, so it was natural that the worlds of wine and art would come together.

Is that when you made your work about the Grands Crus de Grand Cru in Alsace?

No, that was in 2004. My first project with wine was a late harvest of Pinot Meunier from Champagne, which I did while completing my diploma. It involved doing things that are simply not allowed in Champagne. The jury, composed of critics, historians, personalities of the art world and the government, instead of judging my work aesthetically or visually, had to evaluate my work conceptually as well as taste it. After all, it was a well made wine, it was 50% chaptalized but it tasted good.

Therefore, those works were not just visual, they were real wines that you as an artist had fermented and vinified. At the opening of one of your shows, does the public participate in these tastings?

No, the only tastings were those for my diploma, but also, when the magazine Art Presse did an article on my work, we organized a blind tasting with art critics who had to write about a work that they tasted.

Recently you received an absurd letter from INAO asking you to stop using the name Chaource and threatening legal action. How can they be so obtuse? After all, you are not selling cheese or competing illegally.

Situations like this interest me a lot as an artist. I often play with the rules of the appellations for food and wine, for example with my Grand Cru de Grands Crus d’Alsace, or by making my own Mouton Rothschild. The producers in Alsace know my work and have no problem with my approach, on the contrary, they know perfectly well that what I do is not comparable to the frauds by people who sell false bottles of Romanée Conti. I can only explain it by their lack of culture. I had no problems with the cheesemakers of Chavignol, they understood and spent a lot of time with me on how the taste of cheese evolves. As an artist, I am fully within my rights and I am not breaking any rule, but INAO somehow decided to send me this letter.

It is good advertising for your work.

Yes, it gets people talking about the work. Still, I now need to work with a copyright lawyer to come up with a proper response to his letter.

You mean that it is a real threat

Oh yes, and a silly one, because usually it is art centers and museums that invite me, in this case the Passages art center, who invited Chaource producers to work with me and the museum to produce a work of art. I can understand that some producers might refuse to participate because they are not interested, nothing wrong with that. However, going so far as to report me to the INAO, I suppose that goes with the current climate of state of emergency and permanent threat that we live in. It is too bad, because it is a nice project and I am still in contact with many of the producers that participated. My work does not make a mockery of their products, not at all, and they understand this. They work with me; they share their insights into the fermentation, the taste. All work with milk from small farms, often with raw milk.

What comes across immediately is that you are passionate about wine and food.

Yes, I am very careful about which producers I work with. In this case, some did not take the time to understand what I was doing.

In another project, you made wine without using grapes.

That is H2O, yes, from 2005; I used water, sugar, yeasts, enzymes, rectifiers and all the additives that are officially allowed in the wine industry. It was a way of detaching myself, as an artist, from nature. Exactly as minimalist artist did, by making geometric shapes. As you now, there are foods today that are a lot like that, like some grated cheese that is not made with any cheese; that is a form of abstraction, far from natural.

Can you say something about your recent work?

I have a big exhibition in Bordeaux until September 10, called Critique of Pure Raisins showing new work around wine, like H2O, DRC 1946, Grand Cru de Grands Crus d’Alsace. Currently I am in Lyon working on an exhibition in Vienne at the Centre d’Art la Halle des Bouchers about water, so I have travelled along the Rhone river from its source at 3000m in Switzerland to the Mediterranean, plus I am writing a book about this. It will not involve wine, just water. In addition, I will have a large exhibition at the Cheese Museum that will open in Troyes next autumn; it will feature all the photos of the cheese work, excluding the Chaource of course, plus some new work relating to the forms of minimalist art and the shapes of cheeses.

Thank you Nicolas

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  • Davide Robbiati

    Davide Robbiati

    Curiosando tra le opere, al link che hai postato, si trovano degli esempi di arte davvero sorprendenti!... Che curiosità di poterle vedere dal vero! Gran bel post, Mike [e non si dica, quindi, che Vinix non è anche luogo di cultura!]

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