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A December Art Walk to Remember

Wicker Park and Bucktown Galleries Unite for a Night
Sunday Dec 10, 2006.     By Joanne Hinkel
Centerstage Chicago Nightlife City Guide Arts

photo: courtesy of Society for the Arts.
To launch its inaugural "Second Saturday Event" on a frigidly cold Saturday just two weeks before Christmas may not have been the best promotional idea for the Wicker Park Bucktown Gallery Association. But it's never been Chicago's style to wait for good weather. If it was, we'd never get anything done.

Suiting up in lots of wool, in the form of tweed pants, socks, a sweater and dress coat, I made way for North Avenue from my Uptown apartment with a print-out of all the member galleries and their addresses. Nine galleries, located between Division and Fullerton and between Western and Ashland were scheduled to participate in the event, extending their hours from 6 to 10 p.m.

Arriving at 5:55 p.m. at the Green Lantern Gallery, I was early. Though no one else was there yet, director Caroline Picard welcomed me. In the space, which doubles as her studio apartment, there are touches of domesticity all around, from a cat curled up on a couch near the entryway to the sight of a kitchen appliances just in back of the exhibition area. Mat Daly's abstracted paintings of treetops and forests, part of the solo show "Out of the Woods," were immediately enchanting, drawing out the essence of basic shapes in nature.

Jason, on his way back from looking at boots at City Soles, met me downstairs, and we made way to The Society for the Arts. After walking nearly a mile we arrived in what seemed closer to West Town than Bucktown. The group show, "Peek," was designed as a glimpse of art and artists to exhibit in the space in 2007.

Presented against a backdrop of red velvet curtains, the art felt exaggeratedly dramatic, but it worked. We were struck by Quang Hong's small-scale oil portraits of fairytale characters, spoofed mythical characters and parodied art history figures, each in intricate detail a la tradition of Dutch 18th-century painting (see example above).

A few of the exhibiting artists sat in the backroom and enjoying a bottle of wine, which I stared at longingly. All this walking in the cold and no gallery had yet offered a modest cup of wine. Bahumbug!

Our next stop was around the corner: named after my favorite hero of teen angst, Lloyd Dobler Gallery had to be interesting. Up a flight of stairs and into a second-floor space that overlooks the Division/Milwaukee intersection, we walked into "Wondergems," a group show of young artists working in conceptual and alternative modes such as cartoons, intuitive drawing and sculpture; also on view was a looping video piece by Adam Ekberg showing an erroneous traffic signal.

Deciding that the walk north was too much, we took the Blue Line from Division to Damen. We realized we were looping back to where we had started, but there was no good way to approach all this distance between galleries. Following a quick snack of a Chicago-style hot dog at Swank Frank, we headed to Around the Coyote Gallery's "Multiples and Miniatures" exhibit.

An annual show devoted to affordable artwork by an array of ATC artists, prices fall between $20 and $2,000. Jason let me know he really liked the Damien James illustrationsódrawings of gnome-like figures against splotches of red inkójust in case I was in need of a gift idea. People were beginning to file in for the "Naughty or Vice Holiday Monologues" a performance to be held in the gallery. We moved on in search of more static art.

We hopped in Jason's ford station wagon and continued the art walk by car, ironic as that may be. Johnsonese Gallery was one of the few WPBGA-affiliated galleries hosting a proper opening for its "Holiday Salon" group show, complete with red wine, cheese and crackers. Finally! We had a cup then packed it in.

What makes other gallery communities, such as the West Loop and River North, so effective at synchronizing openings, events and exhibits is that they operate in neighborhoods that are truly walkable, with galleries situated next door to one another. While the WPBGA alliance has excellent intentions, the fact that this area spans a three-mile radius is an undeniable hindrance. Though rumor has it that plans for shuttling patrons to and from each gallery are in the works for the January Second Saturday event. This would make all the difference.


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