Minimalist Tiki

Art shows bring to life the golden age of hip

Updated March 31, 2012

Two art shows on the opposite ends of South Florida offer not only the sights but also a glimpse into the sounds and tastes of a bygone era when style and cool ruled our culture.

These exhibits won’t be around long, however, so catch them now if you can:

Cocktail Culture at the Norton Museum of Art

Tucked into the large ground-floor gallery used for rotating exhibits at the upscale Norton Museum in downtown West Palm Beach is a somewhat unlikely sight. Just one floor below priceless artifacts from ancient China and two floors below the paintings of European masters is a motley assortment of relics of 20th century excess: silver cocktail shakers and champagne buckets, vintage jewelry, and glamorous cocktail dresses and shoes.

The Cocktail Culture exhibit at the Norton Museum of Art
The Cocktail Culture exhibit at the Norton Museum of Art. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)

But somehow it fits. The Cocktail Culture exhibit, which opened in December and has been extended another month to April 15, is a fascinating look at the evolution of American society and the social conventions that came with it. Particularly, our obsession with the cocktail and the trappings of the party culture. Considering the recent revival of interest in mixology and cocktails, it’s no surprise this show has proved to be popular.

I previewed the exhibit in depth when it opened and recently got a chance to peruse the many odd and whimsical touches. The installation is divided into eight different eras spanning the past 100+ years, from the flappers of the early 1900s to the social butterflies of today. Haute couture from some of history’s top designers (Christian Dior, Valentino, Mary Quant) is a big part of the show, but not surprisingly my attention turned to the art and artifacts of the cocktail itself.

An interesting narrative traces the cocktail’s evolution as you make your way through history, with drink recipes prominently displayed to represent each time period. With the exception of the 1970s and ’80s, a low point for both fashion and cocktails, the eras were well represented: the Flapper Cocktail (1900s-1920s), the Charlie Lindbergh (1930s), the Jewel (1940s), the Pink Lady (1950s), the Martini (1960s), the Harvey Wallbanger (1970s), Long Island Iced Tea (1980s), and the Fascinator (1990s-2000s). In fact, you could argue that everything devolved after the 1950s or ’60s.

Modern Caribbean Rum
A Cocktail Culture display in the gift shop at the Norton Museum of Art
A Cocktail Culture display in the gift shop at the Norton Museum of Art. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)

While our current era is probably the least original in fashion and style, we seem to at least be reaping the benefits of a more educated historical perspective and sense of restraint. Also, a bit more class. The Fascinator (absinthe, French vermouth, dry gin and a fresh mint spring) reflects this newfound interest in everything retro and classic. It’s actually not a new creation but an 80-year-old recipe from the influential Savoy Cocktail Book, published in 1930.

The exhibit contains more than 150 rare objects, but if you’re looking for something a little easier to find be sure to check out the gift shop on your way out. You’ll be temped to pick up some of the many cocktail-themed books and accessories to class up your own home bar.

The Norton Museum of Art is at 1451 S. Olive Ave. in West Palm Beach. Call (561) 832-5196 or visit Norton.org.


Mambo For Cats at the Harold Golen Gallery

Down in Miami’s Wynwood Arts District, the always inventive Harold Golen put together a showing of works by the highly influential Jim Flora. If you’ve ever wondered where contemporary artists such as Shag, Derek Yaniger and Tim Biskup got some of their surrealistic flair, look no further.

The artwork of Jim Flora

Flora (1914-1998) is best known for his wild jazz and classical album covers for Columbia Records and RCA Victor in the 1940s and ’50s. He also wrote and illustrated 17 popular children’s books and flourished for decades as a magazine illustrator. But he was way ahead of his time as a prolific fine artist with a devilish sense of humor and a flair for juxtaposing playfulness, absurdity and violence. All are hallmarks of today’s pop surrealist art scene.

His illustration style has also influenced children’s book author Lane Smith and Pixar animator Pete Docter (Toy Story, Monsters Inc.), along with such illustrators as J.D. King, Michael Bartalos, J. Otto Seibold, Phillip Anderson, and Terry Allen. Shag is quoted as saying: “That period of jazz-influenced, minimal, Cubist, wacked-out, avant-garde illustration and animation remains my favorite, and is the base upon which I’ve tried to build my own body of work. Sometimes I paint an object and realize, ‘Oh no, that’s how Jim Flora would have done it!’ That usually requires me to paint over said object and try to do it again more ‘Shag-like,’ whatever that means. Flora did it like nobody else.”

The artwork of Jim Flora

There’s no shortage of interest in Flora in today’s art scene. JimFlora.com is a great website dedicated to the artist’s “mischievous and diabolic art” with tons of photos of rare works and news about Flora-related projects. The Flora family also maintains a site, JimFloraArt.com, which includes galleries, merchandise, and memorabilia. There’s a Facebook page, a Flickr group, an Etsy shop and a blog all dedicated to Flora.

Three collections of his work have been published over the past decade: The Mischievous Art of Jim Flora (2004), The Curiously Sinister Art of Jim Flora (2007), and The Sweetly Diabolic Art of Jim Flora (2009). Check Amazon.com for availability. All this recent interest could be the impetus for digging deeper into his prodigious body of work. The Flora family archive is said to contain hundreds of paintings, sketches and long-lost commercial assignments.

The Miami exhibit, which opened Feb. 11 and ran through March 3, also offered a rare opportunity to purchase a Jim Flora original. The Harold Golen Gallery is at 2294 N.W. Second Ave. in Miami. Call (305) 989-3359 or go to HaroldGolenGallery.com.

Update: If you missed the Jim Flora show, we’re told that several leftover pieces will be on display at The Hukilau in Fort Lauderdale during Harold Golen’s Exotica Art in Hi-Fi exhibit April 19-21. Go to TheHukilau.com for details and to check the schedule.
* Click here for The Atomic Grog’s Hukilau coverage

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