The Art of Drink

Courtesy of the Hornswaggler Collection

Rarely does Skittle-infused vodka lead to good choices. But for Graham Hogan and Joseph Rynkiewicz, the candy cocktail led to an innovative new venture in Chicago art commerce. One night two years ago, Hogan explained, he, Rynkiewicz and a group of friends decided to flavor their vodka with Skittle candies. Ed Marszewski, the director of the Co-Prosperity Sphere, liked the concoction so much that he asked them to serve it at his gallery. “We were like, all right, we can do that,” Hogan said.

Suffice it to say, Skittle vodka only lasted two shows before the duo realized they could take any middle-of-the-road liquor and infuse it with various herbs to craft unique and appealing alcoholic potions. And so began the Hornswaggler bar–an entirely mobile cocktail bar serving up craft drinks at Chicago art exhibitions. As Hogan and Rynkiewicz began to turn a profit from their drinks, they entered what, for them, was a new part of the art world: art buying.

Unlike collectors of yore, these two are no cognac-swigging, cravat-wearing John D. Rockefellers or Greek shipping magnates. Hogan works for a doll manufacturer and Rynkiewicz is a freelance photographer and art handler. “That was our first purchase,” Rynkiewicz said, gesturing to an image of a disgruntled-looking Persian cat with daisy eyelashes.

The Hornswaggler Collection made its public debut last Friday night, in the place where it all began–Bridgeport’s Co-Prosperity Sphere. For each event, the couple crafts a new menu of $4 cocktails. Friday night’s list featured four cocktails of various herbal infusions (think lavender and Tarragon vodka) with autumnal additives, like maple syrup and apple cider. A tipsy symbiosis evolves: “You want the drinks; we want the art,” Rynkiewicz said with a smile.

The initial impression given by the exhibit was unsettling; conspicuously naked walls surrounded hordes of cocktail-armed visitors that swarmed around tables of hors d’oeuvres. However, when visitors stepped behind the partitioned room, a single wall presented a visual smorgasbord of artwork.  “All of our efforts have funneled into that wall back there,” Hogan said looking towards the cocktail bar.

The collection includes work by over three dozen Chicago artists, including Stephen Eichorn, Kristen Taylor, and Juan Angel Chavez. The single wall held a seemingly hodgepodge collection, but it was cohesive in its clever subject matter. A framed black splat with neon typeface demands, “Have you made plans for the future?” A solitary wooden potato sits on an outcropping.

“Visually, there really is no cohesiveness; our collection marries a lot of different styles,” Rynkiewicz said, arms folded, scanning the wall of acrylic fruit loops, doodles, and wooden wig-like cutouts. “It’s a time capsule, a glimpse of what’s happening in Chicago art at a certain moment. It’s not about a curatorial vision–it’s meant to be seen together.”

The latest manifestation of the Hornswaggler collection is a public art-lending library. As the collection expanded, the couple realized they had a surfeit of good art on their hands. They came to an epiphany–rather than let art collect dust in storage, they could share it with the community.

The library allows art to live in the homes of aficionados essentially free of charge. Borrowers can keep a piece for three to six months, after paying a refundable security deposit and a small fee for handling and installation.

This program has deep implications–the stuffy Sotheby’s attitude of art patronage is replaced by a vibrant, dynamic collection that is supported and shared by the community. “It’s a much more charming way of doing things,” Hogan noted.

But one question remained unanswered at Friday’s reveal: what is a Hornswaggler, anyway? “It’s a breed of Oompa-Loompa, actually,” Rynkiewicz explained. “It also means ‘to pull wool over your eyes,’ which is in a sense what we are doing–getting you drunk to help us buy art.”

Learn more about the Hornswaggler Collection at www.hornswagglerarts.org

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