Saturday, October 24, 2009

Snack Time!

By Jeriah Hildwine, Snack Enthusiast

Art does not follow the supply-and-demand model of other economies; rather, individual artists and galleries compete with one another in a sort of reverse economy, where they vie for the attention of the viewing public, whose attention creates the value that allows some artists to command incredible prices for their artworks, while others would be hard pressed to give their work away. Therefore, galleries often host opening receptions, intended to generate interest in the work on exhibit. While commercial galleries are primarily seeking to attract the attention of collectors, the attention-based model of the art market requires that they chum the waters, encouraging visitors and viewers far larger in number than the relatively few collectors who might actually purchase a work of art.

An opening (or in some cases closing) reception is generally hosted on a Friday evening, and certain conventions are commonplace: there is no pressure to buy, no sales pitch, just an open invitation to come in and look at the work. It's usually crowded, often with people you know, if only from other art openings. And sometimes, there's snacks.

The refreshments served at an art opening may or may not tell you anything about the gallery and the art. Booze is commonplace. The traditional offering of a choice of red or white wine is standard in River North, and is common in the West Loop and elsewhere. Beer is more common in the West Loop, in other neighborhoods, and in alternative spaces, apartment galleries, non-profits, etc. Grolsch sponsors some art spaces, providing them with beer to serve, particularly in the galleries on Peoria in the West Loop.

Aside from the booze, some galleries offer non-alcoholic beverages, and snacks. While beverages are standard, the offering of snacks is more hit-or-miss. Many galleries offer no snacks at all; when offered, they can range from a bowl of peanuts to an elaborate buffet; Nicole Gallery practically fed everyone dinner on the season opening night.

Last night saw a number of apartment galleries and project spaces, which are sort of a separate animal when it comes to refreshments. I've come to expect (and much appreciate) a can of macrobrew lager as the standard beverage offering at an apartment gallery. The four spaces we visited last night ran the who gamut of snack offerings, from the simple can of beer to some pleasant surprises.

Antena had a large and chaotic setup; numerous assorted bottles of wine featured prominently. It appeared that there was also Old Style and some sort of cookie-like snack items. Stephanie and I each had a different type of red wine, both of which were fine, but neither of which I remember. The cups were large but we didn't have much as we had to drive.

Ebersmoore, formerly ebersb9 but now renamed and relocated to a beautiful (and much larger) space in the West Loop, served Old Style, the local favorite. This is what I've come to think of as the standard apartment gallery offering. I appreciate it: it's democratic, populist, it says, "We're not trying to be a blue-chip gallery, we want to be a more approachable space for the common viewer." It's unpretentious, down-to-earth, and in touch with its audience.

Concertina Gallery, a curator-run exhibition space in Logan Square, served Pabst Blue Ribbon. I associate PBR with the West Coast; when I was in college in California, PBR and Olympia were the cheap party beers of choice. (Natural Ice was generally regarded as inferior; we called it "Snatchral.") In graduate school at MICA in Baltimore, it was National Bohemian ("Natty Boh"), and here in Chicago Old Style seems to reign supreme. Concertina's offering of PBR was a pleasant blast from my past. And Frank would approve:

Come on. I wancha to meet a frienda mine.
Raymond, get enough beer for Ben too.

Okay Frank.

(to Jeffrey)
What kinda beer do you like?

(just says it)


Last but far from least, Noble and Superior Projects, a new apartment gallery opening its inaugural exhibition, apparently knows the importance both of making a good first impression, and of snacks. In addition to the de rigeur selection of red and white wine, they served Frugal Joe's Ordinary Beer, quite a good beer despite its self-deprecating name. It's gotten mixed reviews but I thought it was certainly a refreshing change of pace from the usual canned lagers and fliptop Grolsch I associate with "gallery beers." For non-alcoholic selections they had two-liter bottles of seltzer and what might have been ginger ale.

Not only did Noble and Superior offer a better-than-average beverage selection, they also served an array of snacks, both sweet and savory. For sweets there were cookies (possibly sugar cookies), and savory snacks included peanuts (both dry roasted and honey glazed), baby carrots, three types of crackers (Triscuits, Cheez-Its, and water bicuits), and three types of cheese (a flavorful medium cheddar, a pepper jack, and another mild white cheese). I tried everything and found the Triscuit-and-cheddar combination most compelling. Aspiring apartment galleries could do far worse than to follow Noble and Superior's example.

Of course, it's ultimately about the art, but snacks and booze don't hurt. They're the consolation prize when the work on show is sub-par, and they facilitate our enjoyment when the work is top-notch. While galleries, whether commercial, apartment, or otherwise, rightly place their primary focus on displaying work in line with their curatorial vision, their offerings of snacks and booze are an important secondary consideration. I hope to continue to review the snacks offered by the art spaces I visit in the future, on a more-or-less weekly basis. Get out there, see some art, get your drunk on, and eat some snacks!

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