Overcoming singledom and understanding contemporary art are two of life's more interesting challenges. The Museum of Contemporary Art
reaches out to comfort young Chicagoans on both fronts each month with First Fridays. Though I'm currently very attached ('til death), I had never attended the event and wondered if it focused more on the cocktail or on the artwork? And how does the museum manage good times in a space filled with million dollar art?
On our "date night" last Friday, Jason and I opted to attend First Fridays instead of our usual routine: hitting up gallery openings. As married folks do, we got there quite early—6:15 p.m.—and made way through the tickets line, free coat check and hectic lobby.
It became immediately apparent that what most people came to look at was each other, not art. Getting the several once-overs in my drab brown button-down shirt and black pants had me pulling Jason toward the cash bar. I hadn't seen any art yet, but many amazing handbags—Coach, Gucci and La Furla in leather and suede—were right at home among a sea of designer jeans.
"This seems like the place to be tonight," Jason remarked as we filtered into the museum's main foyer among a crowd of a few hundred people. DJ Jordan Zawideh, set up on a balcony above the crowd, alternated electronic music with '80 favorites by Chaka Kahn and Michael Jackson. After trading our purchased drink tickets for Amstel Lights, we made way to the complimentary buffet.
The spread included deliciously rich bites by Puck's: meatballs in sauce, homemade potato chips, frisee salad and chocolate brownies, all of which would be heartily replenished throughout the night. All First Friday's follow a theme (for example, The Seven Deadly Sins), and the night's premise—Gluttony—was helped along by plenty of Vosges toffee bars.
The museum was in between major shows and displayed no art on the first floor. On our way to the upstairs exhibits, we stopped at an iMAC computer station and each played a game to find our "color" by clicking on a series of random images. We later found out this was the only computer dating game of its kind in the world, and had we chosen to, we could have then opted to connect with other like-minded colors of people. Sadly, we learned of our incompatibility: Jason scored a confident "green," and me a puzzled yet creative, "purple."
"Hey, hey. No beverages upstairs," a security guard warned us. No drinking while looking at the art? So this was why the throngs of people stayed on the first floor! After chugging our cold beers—less than a sophisticated museum-style move—we ventured to the third floor, mulling over a left-over from the Massive Change exhibit: design plans for the Zero Energy Towers in China, a massive skyscraper designed to be entirely self sufficient using solar power. On the fourth floor we reveled in Steven Husby's solo show in the 12 x 12 New Artists: New Work space. Husby's works, initially imagined by tinkering with shapes, numbers, symbols and colors in Photoshop then carefully rendered in acrylic paint on panel, hardly referenced graphic design and seemed more like a re-imagining of what abstract painting means and could be.
We then moved through "The Art of Richard Tuttle," a retrospective of one of the original post-minimalist's work that otherwise defies all categorization. We confusingly looked at multi-media sculptures, consisting of plywood, rope and light bulbs and shapes cut from canvases then colored to look like crayon drawings. A bit late in the show to appreciate its meaning, we watched a video that contextualized the work as a playful exploration of shape, color and expectations. Lastly, we took in "Sustainable Architecture," a show devoted to developing projects in Chicago.
By 8:30 p.m. we made our way downstairs where the party had intensified. A few people were even bopping on the dance floor; freshly-out-of-college girls made chit-chat circles near the bar; co-workers in suits made way for food; and the iMAC stations were a-buzzing with activity.
Whether you're into the party atmosphere or not, MCA's First Fridays offer up a perfect time for young professionals to go check out art. For those of us who work late hours and don't have the energy to trek back downtown on a weekend day, it may be the only time to make a visit.
The entrance fee for First Fridays is $15 for non-members, $10 in advance; $7 for members. Visit mcachicago.org for more information.