Fine Wine, Fine Art, Slovak Style

That the Dumas family does not make more of Marlene, arguably the greatest living SA artist and international superstar of note, is a marketing mystery. Marlene was born on the family wine estate Jacobsdal in Stellenbosch whose wines are distributed by Distell, usually far from slouches in the marketing department.

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At the Elesko Winery in Modra (below), 20 minutes from Bratislava, visitors are greeted by a bronze Andy Warhol (above) whose parents were born in the east of Slovakia. While Andy was a quintessential New York artist, his adoption by the homeland of his parents makes sense in this age of Wine Tourism where tasting the stuff is no longer sufficient. And so much more effective than a certificate from Great Wine Capitals of the World which seems to be a travel club for well upholstered bureaucrats scrounging free meals.

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Of course a bronze Marlene would not last long as SA is Ground Zero for scrap metal thieves with major works at the Johannesburg Art Gallery chopped up and sold for scrap and no one notices for years! Perhaps Athi-Patra Ruga, who will be carrying the SA flame at the Venice Biennale this year, can make Marlene out of balloons to be inflated on demand.

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Opened in 2007 by Slovakians who made a fortune in Russia (the winery cost a reputed €30 million), Elesko features the Zoya Museum, a full-on fine art gallery with an exhibition Karásek VS Africa on show yesterday.

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Paris-based Miloš Karásek is a Moscow-trained architect and sculptor who has taken Picasso’s appropriation of African masks to the next level, exhibiting his own sculptures confronting Fang masks and ancestor cult images from West Africa. Quite a juxtaposition to see judges of the Concours Mondial eating roast deer with two different kinds of potatoes (boiled and mashed) between fetish masks. Certainly the alienation of western wine from African culture is reinforced by this bizarre juxtaposition.

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The whole idea of displaying African “tribal” art in a state-of-the-art winery takes the role of curios in tourism to a new level and is so much more unexpected than Laurence Graff dropping £1 million on a Tretchikoff Chinese Girl with a blue face, although the common Russian connection is interesting. Of course the girl has a blue face because for communists, blue is the colour of luxury as the Blue Train of Generalissimo Tito, recently resurrected and competing with SA Railways, confirms.

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Oh for access to Laurence to suggest he exhibits his African Art at Elesko alongside his Delaire-Graff wines. Laurence is the son of a Russian, so the show would have a wonderful symmetry and as Slovakia imports 2/3 of its wine, perhaps new eastern markets could be opened up.