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Mix Masters

Chicago artist Hebru Brantley welcomes Maurice Hennessy for dinner, and everyone discovers their work isn’t so different after all.

Artist Hebru Brantley kept the mood light with Josephine Lee.

“This picture is not just red or black—it is many things,” said Maurice Hennessy as he gestured toward the enormous Hebru Brantley canvas hanging behind him. “And a cognac is like a painting. It has several colors.” The global ambassador for Moët Hennessy, and the eighth generation of his family involved in running the storied house, this resident of Cognac, France, has a deft way with words—though artist Brantley, his host, kept pace.

“After the great conversation we’ve been having about the mastery that goes into cognac, I realized that I sometimes have taken that for granted,” Brantley joked. “And I shouldn’t because a lot of cognac, on many late nights, has gone into the creation of some of the work you see on these walls.” The occasion for the conflation of art and spirits was a visit by Hennessy, who is traveling the globe for celebrations marking the brand’s 250th anniversary, a milestone worthy of a toast by any measure. He had already been to Guangzhou, China; Moscow; New York City; Johannesburg; and a downtown Chicago karaoke bar—next was Los Angeles. The party took place in Brantley’s studio in Pilsen, a soaring, brightly lit space with his paintings and sculptures scattered artfully around. The guests, too, were an artful mix: Josephine Lee, president of the Chicago Children’s Choir, mingled with real estate investor Bob Buford. Investment manager William Heard rubbed elbows with Andrew Barber, founder of the influential hip-hop website Fake Shore Drive.

As guests arrived, they were served a glass of X.O with a single large ice cube, the first round of a four-spirit tasting led by Hennessy. “People will say, ‘Oh, no—you must have this with your Labrador at your feet by the fireplace,’” he said. “But that’s not the case for this one.” Three more ever-richer and older bottlings followed, as well as a sit-down dinner and toasts of mutual admiration. And more metaphors: The evening concluded with a pour of a very rare cognac that includes a 200-year-old eau-de-vie. “It’s very concentrated,” Hennessy noted. “But what is important is the blend. A very old cognac on its own would be—well, too straightforward. This is more like one of Hebru’s pictures.”

Violinist Katarina Visnevska always keeps the cocktail hour flowing.