First Second Saturday

The Second Saturday art show tradition is gathering followers as easily as my favorite black sweater picks up dog hair. More galleries are staying open late to display their wares, while groups of neo-Bohemian art kids transform vacant warehouses into one-night museums of local works. The venues range from drafty, concrete rooms pulsing with live music to stark, white-walled galleries graced by the soothingly banal tones of Windham Hill CDs. The gallery-goers range from the most serious of art buyers to, well, me—the first-time visitor.

7:45 pm: Alley Cuts is easily recognizable by the crowd spilling out into the street in front of the building. Even this early, the party is happening—no doubt aided by the full bar. Alley Cuts’ art display includes classical portraits to graffiti-styled jackets to flaming skull lamps. Enigmatic Asian characters adorn the floor, the walls and even the hostess’ hair. Decals of the same character, which an attendee informs me means “double happiness in some language or other,” are hastily snapped up from a coffee table on which they are piled. This crowd is fashionably put together—the women adorned with rhinestones, bindis and perfectly outlined lips; the men in suits or 1970s thrift-store clothing carefully chosen for that “so geeky it’s cool” presentation. Everyone here seems to know each other, and after a few minutes I begin to feel like a party crasher. Time to move on.

8:25 pm: At the Artists Contemporary Gallery the paintings hang at eye level, carefully lit by overhead spotlights. The sole inhabitant is a staff member quietly reading at a desk in the back. The ACG also has a group showing, although the works are more sedate—black-and-white photographs of gravestone angels, watercolor landscapes and ceramic masks. The staffer waits patiently as I wander through the rooms making unrefined comments like: “$250 for a painted sponge?” He smiles congenially and locks the door behind me as I leave.

9:05 pm: 750 is accessible through a rickety staircase off J Street. The last attendees are leaving as I enter the room. The sushi platters are barren except for ravaged containers of wasabi. I glance quickly at the group show of sculpture and painting and go back down the stairs. Too late for pickled ginger.

10:15 pm: Joe’s Style Shop is hosting a show of abstract paintings by Kevin Price, Mike Rodriguez and J. Verdijo. There are candles flaming in the windows, and jazz is pulsing out into the night. That smooth ambient sound comes from the Downtown Jazz Trio. The group’s instrumental blend of drums, bass and piano moves through the crowd like a party host, drawing people together and filling the gaps in conversation.

The point of focus for the reception is the living art show at the foot of the stage. The artists and several guests are working collaboratively on a large painting. People have their sleeves rolled up and acrylic paint smeared up to their elbows. Some use their fingers to smear the works others have just left, and others paste bits of paper to the fresh paint and begin painting new images over them. Verdijo grabs a matchbook and begins to light the edges of the canvas on fire. No one stops painting as the smoke rises and the canvas curls and chars. On this evening at Joe’s Style Shop, art is alive.