Last Friday's official start to Chicago's fall art season definitely felt like a "scene." Droves of people, including many an art student and fashionable collector, flooded the galleries in the River North and West Loop areas, where more than 60 spaces hosted openings. Despite ambitions to see just about everything in the four-hour window of possibility (from 5-9 p.m.), I only made it to 15 exhibits before I was half-drunk on free wine, tired from walking in heels and desperate to go eat some dinner.
I met up with my art gal pal, Lu, at 5:15 p.m. After a short ride on the Brown Line to the Chicago stop, we made our way into Catherine Edelman Gallery, our first designated stop (we flock to photography). This gallery always feels serious and to the point, a fact that was underscored by the fact that seltzer water was served in lieu of wine. Without the noise of freeloaders, Michael Kenna's meditative photos of Japan could be fully absorbed. His small-scale pictures of snowy landscapes were one of the most beautiful things we would see all night.
Across the hall at Zg Gallery, Anna Jeelsdettir’s shaped canvases with color splotches zig-zagging across provided the appropriate counterpoint to Kenna's black and white realism.
"Do you think you could take photographs like Michael Kenna?" I asked Lu (who was a photo major in college) on the way out. "Hmmm...I don't think so," she said. "I couldn't print them that perfectly or get the exposure to be that perfect, it's hard to photograph snow."
We passed a busker-guitarist in front of the 200 W. Superior St. building strumming acoustic melodies for passers-by. The music was a nice touch, and would have been a nice addition to many of the galleries.
At Judy Saslow Gallery I saw a sight I have never seen in all of my gallery opening days: a plentiful buffet of food that included marinated fruits on skewers, grilled steak slices, a cheese plate, nuts, olives and crackers, as well complimentary wine. Happily munching, we took in Michael Nedjar's paintings on paper (often on cardboard, or on the backs of paper food packaging), simplistically abstract portraits reminiscent of Jean Buffet's outsider paintings.
In the next 30 minutes we would see Lalla Essaydi's photographs of Moroccean women covered in Arabic calligraphy at Schneider Gallery, fantastic cartoon pictures by Karl Wirsum (one of Chicago's famed Imagist painters) at Jean Albano Gallery; perfectly painted allegories related to Russian folklore at Maya Polsky Gallery; and psychological portraits of the modern woman, full of the bright colors, 1950s products and doll cut-out nudes, by Elizabeth Shreve at Carl Hammer Gallery. Lu and I had also downed two wine cups, found our friend Carl, and hopped on a free trolley en route to the West Loop, compliments of Art Chicago at the Merchandise Mart, or so the sign said...
With the windows zipped down, our arms hanging out for the breeze, Chicago's cityscape at our finger tips and only four other people on board, this zipping-along trolley felt like a physical liberation from the intellectual activity of gallery hopping. Why were there not more people taking advantage of this glorious, free ride?
By 7:30 p.m. we arrived in the West Loop, found our friend Yuli, and stopped to rest and take in the crowd swarming the sidewalk in front of the 119 N. Peoria St. building (home to Gallery 40000, Bodybuilder and Sportsman, and Wendy Cooper Gallery). Just like college co-eds travel in groups to various frat parties on the first Friday of the semester, School of the Art Institute students have the start of the fall art season to announce their arrival to each other, and indie haircuts, designer handbags, black-rimmed eye glasses and bold outfits with glitter and belts were in no short supply.
Monique Meloche Gallery was too mobbed to approach, which was too bad because I was psyched to see Laura Mosquera's latest round of paintings. Rhona Hoffman Gallery, located next door, was one of the few in the West Loop where people were dumbstruck not by each other, but by the art. Kehinde Wiley's grandiose portraits in gilded frames reference Baroque paintings of royalty and religious figures while featuring a decidedly contemporary subject, the artist dressed in hip-hop garb. Complimentary plates of humus and guacamole as well as the sight of uncorked champagne made the gallery feel all the more generous.
Upstairs at Walsh Gallery, Heri Dono's installation of Indonesian monkey shadow puppets flying around was delightfully surreal, as was the vision of Laurie Hogan's allegorical animal paintings at Peter Miller Gallery.
In what used to be Aron Packer's gallery space (as he has now merged forces with Schopf Gallery on Lake, creating Packer Schopf Gallery) was a space reserved for "Bridge Art Fair," with no art and no people, but a table full of liquor bottles behind a locked door, and a note left promising to open at 8 p.m. gescheidle showed video installation and drawings hinging around a phallic, ficticious cartoon character, and Giola Gallery displayed nautical surfer scenes in a wonderful nod to '70s aesthetics.
By 8:45 pm the heat of bodies swarming in the galleries and overall Friday night fatigue had compelled us to make way to the outside sidewalk again. With sweaty hair and a collective vacant look on our faces, we were ready to stop processing and start moving on.
Still, in the 15 shows I saw multitudes of art. For moments I viewed far-away worlds: Japan, Morocco, Indonesia, Russia...and the western Illinois suburbs. I saw a range of art techniques and media, from whittled wood to embroidery to traditional landscape painting to video installation. And I saw the pangs of desire on the art students crowding the galleries and streets. I couldn't help but wonder which of them would have their art on those white walls one day.