NORFOLK, Va. (AP) - One showstopper during last Wednesday’s happy hour was the photo of a Black woman. A spotlight illuminated her everything - her voluminous Afro, her commanding pose, the multicolored frock that flowed over her frame.
The other showstopper was the drink - a cognac-based sidecar - that barman Josh Seaburg made to complement the image during “Curated Cocktails,” a new virtual program of the Chrysler Museum of Art.
The Zoom-based “educational happy hour” launched in March as another way during the pandemic to introduce people to art. It also introduces the public to the curators and conservators who work outside of the spotlight as they spend months, sometimes years, researching and executing exhibitions.
Emily Shield, public programs coordinator at the Chrysler, said the event evolved from a “Curator in Your Computer” series last fall that got curators to discuss art and take questions from viewers. It was well-received but pretty academic, Shield said. Spring seemed to warrant something more lighthearted.
“We wanted a way that still shows the expertise of our curators but has kind of a fun element,” she said, “Something maybe a little unexpected or a little different than normal.”
The next “Curated Cocktail” is Wednesday, April 14, and will feature Gabriel Argy-Rousseau’s Libations Vase from the Chrysler’s glass collection.
During each program, a curator or a conservator shares a piece of art and gives its history and social context. Seaburg huddles with the Chrysler team beforehand and selects or invents a cocktail that he feels goes well with the piece. He will mix the cocktail and give instructions during each event. When people sign up for the program, which is free, they get a copy of the recipe with their confirmation.
The first “Curated Cocktail” in mid-March featured William Merritt Chase’s 1890 “Carmencita” from the Chrysler’s current “Americans in Spain” show. Seaburg, who is the barman at Crudo Nudo in Norfolk and has been teaching the craft for years, created a bourbon concoction he named after the painting. He discussed the cocktail culture of the late 1800s.
“Most every socialite at that time would know how to make a decent cocktail or two,” Seaburg said. “I feel like my role in this is to make a cocktail that pairs aesthetically with what we’re talking about and then explain its cultural relevance and make it relatable and easy for the people at home.”
Last Wednesday’s happy hour focused on Kwame Brathwaite, a New York-born photographer. Seth Feman, Chrysler’s deputy director for art and interpretation and curator of photography, explained Brathwaite’s work through his camera and writings to propel the “Black is Beautiful” movement during the 1960s and 1970s.
The showcased photo, “Untitled,” was made in the 1970s but it was one of many Brathwaite shot to emphasize the natural beauty of African and African American women, Feman said. Brathwaite co-founded a group called the Grandassa Models, whose skin tones ranged the spectrum of brown and who appeared in photos, on album covers and in fashion shows.
Before Feman spoke, Seaburg mixed the sidecar and gave the history of the storied brandy and its origins in western France. He then shared article links in the Zoom chat about the ties between cognac and African American culture.
One article stated that younger folks likely know of the spirit through music videos and songs such as Busta Rhymes’ 2001 “Pass the Courvoisier.”
But, according to cuisinenoirmag.com, the romance goes back to World War II when the grateful liberated French gave bottles to African American soldiers. The soldiers brought them home and then liquor brands, particularly Hennessy, began filling African American magazines with ads.
The “Curated Cocktails” allow viewers to ask questions of the bartender or the curator. They learn a lot from each other, too.
“I call myself a lazy patron of the arts like I’m very interested in it and I like to hear about it from informed people, but I’m poor about doing the homework myself,” Seaburg said. “It is really an amazing opportunity to learn a bit about art and then teach some people about some cocktail fundamentals.”
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