In 1865, Édouard Manet exhibited Olympia at the Paris Salon, and Louis Pasteur patented a process for preventing spoilage in wine. It’s no stretch to claim a connection between these two events. Both modernist painting and pasteurization are techniques of purification, the one an expulsion of extraneous elements through progressive refinement, the other an elimination of pathogens through calibrated heating. Pasteurization, however, isn’t sterilization. Purge all the bacteria from wine or beer and you ruin the taste. Perhaps this explains why Clement Greenberg revised his theory of medium specificity when he confronted the possibility of a perfectly blank canvas. Modernism, like milk, requires contaminants.
In “Afteur Pasteur,” the collective Slavs and Tatars hailed the microbes as “original Other or foreigner.” The exhibition’s centerpiece was a fully operational street-vendor
Artforum print subscribers have full access to this article. If you are a subscriber, sign in below.