CHAGALL was a very good year. Hans Hartung, not so good. "A dismal vintage" is one description. For a number of years, Chateau Mouton Rothschild has commissioned painters and sculptors to design art for the label on its finest Bordeaux, and paid them in cases of wine. The labels and their original paintings, which can be seen at the Corcoran Gallery, start with a solitary Cubist foray by Jean Carlu in 1924, when the Baron Philippe de Rothschild first uncorked the idea. That year, Mouton Roths the chateau.
Then, as something special to celebrate the Allied victory in 1945, the Baron commissioned a second label: a Philippe Jullian sketch of vinelike flourishes around a V for Victory. It was such a good idea that he continues the tradition. The most recent label, 1982, by his friend director John Huston, shows a ram leaping and a large grape cluster. (The next two labels are still to be announced. As the wine is bottled three years after harvest, they're not needed just yet.)
In rooms painted the colors of wine stain and grape, the attractive exhibit consists of shadow-box vignettes for each year and its respective artist.
Though themes of the vine, the ram (a play on the word Mouton), and the pleasures of drinking wine are preferred, the artist apparently has some flexibility. It's fascinating to see how each individual tackles the commission.
Dali's scribbled outline of a ram incorporates his own signature. Although Joan Mir,o doesn't escape his trademark surrealism, he prominently displays a big bright red grape in his design for the 1969 label. Andy Warhol, for 1975, does pop-art portraits of the Baron.
Sculptor C,esar uses an array of bolts. Hartung sweeps black lines across a blue and pink background. And Robert Motherwell is, well, Motherwell, in 1974 with his mustard-and- black abstract expressionist painting. (By the way, the design works.)
The exhibit panels only rarely get out of hand in their adulation: In Motherwell's case, the panel seems to assign the same "mystery and power" found in his painting to the 1974 vintage.
Paintings for the Mouton Rothschild labels are a triumph in packaging. Subtle: like Edward Steichen taking the picture of the baseball star on the cornflakes.
This show is probably the ultimate in private industry's involvement in the arts: instead of just associating one's company name with culture and humanism by supporting a museum exhibit, having one's product be the exhibit. MOUTON ROTHSCHILD: PAINTINGS FOR THE LABELS -- At the Corcoran Gallery of Art through February 24, 1985.