Minimalist Tiki

The highball goes highbrow at Norton Museum exhibit

It’s a good sign that the blossoming interest in mixology and cocktail culture is reaching mass appeal when exhibits pop up at acclaimed art galleries. One such gallery, the Norton Museum in West Palm Beach, is taking a highbrow approach to an intoxicating topic with a fine art exhibit that premieres tomorrow (Dec. 15) and runs through March 11.

Summer Cocktail Party with English Butler, 1961. Watercolor, gouache, ink on paper by Larry Salk.
Summer Cocktail Party with English Butler, 1961. Watercolor, gouache, ink on paper by Larry Salk.

Titled simply Cocktail Culture, it’s one of the first multi-disciplinary exhibitions to explore the social rituals of the cocktail hour through the lens of fashion and design. It features more than 150 objects, including attire, accessories, ads, decorative arts, illustrations, photography and more from the 1920s to the present.

The show is like a travelogue through decades of cocktail history, from the 1920s jazz age to today. Each decade features a different cocktail (the Flapper, the Prohibition, etc.), plus period clothing, objects and accessories. Also included are advertising illustrations and movie clips.

It’s a re-creation of an exhibit that the Rhode Island School of Design held during the summer. The Norton’s version is curated by Michelle Tolini Finamore of the Textile & Fashion Arts Department at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston.

Modern Caribbean Rum
A sterling silver cocktail set from the 1920s.
A sterling silver cocktail set from the 1920s.

Art collected for the exhibit comes the Museum of Art, Rhode Island School of Design; the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; the Newark Museum; the Tiffany & Co. archive; the Miottel Museum in California; plus private lenders. The exhibit includes cocktail attire by designers such as Cristobal Balenciaga, Alexander McQueen, Jeanne Lanvin, Yves Saint Laurent, Norman Norell, Scaasi, Valentino, and Pierre Cardin; and accessories by Elsa Schiaparelli, Tiffany, Judith Leiber, Christian Dior, Van Cleef & Arpel, and Kenneth Jay Lane.

If you’re looking to combine the museum with a night out on the town, check out the Norton’s Art After Dark events, held every Thursday from 5 to 9 p.m. What started as a monthly experiment in 2009 has become a weekly celebration of performance and visual arts, food and socializing. Crowds can top several hundred for the activities, which include tours and culinary treats. This Thursday, Dec. 15, is the Cocktail Culture kickoff featuring a “Curator’s Conversation” plus live jazz and a cocktail tasting.

The Norton Museum of Art is at 1451 S. Olive Ave. in West Palm Beach. Call (561) 832-5196 or visit Founded in 1941, the museum is internationally known for its permanent collection of American, Chinese, Contemporary and European art and photography. The Norton is famous for its masterpieces of 19th and 20th century paintings and sculpture by European artists such as Brancusi, Gauguin, Matisse, Miró, Monet, and Picasso; and by Americans such as Davis, Hassam, Hopper, Manship, O’Keeffe, Pollock and Sheeler.

After the exhibit, if you’re looking for a truly vintage cocktail experience nearby, check out Palm Beach’s landmark Ta-boo restaurant or classy/kitschy Leopard Lounge at the Chesterfield Palm Beach.

Related: Recipes from the Norton’s cocktail exhibit | Highballs meet high art
Cocktail Culture at Norton Museum captures quintessential Palm Beach

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