First Friday's "Fringe Festival'

A ‘Fringe festival' for artists, on Old City's sidewalks

Kennedy on sidewalk: Anyone for crocheted jellyfish?
Kennedy on sidewalk: Anyone for crocheted jellyfish?

What a zoo the First Friday Art Party is. And I mean that in the best possible sense. First Fridays take place all over the country, but I've never seen one so full of action as Old City's.

All the galleries are open, of course, with their new shows, but that's only part of it. Many nearby stores join in too, so after 6 p.m. Second and Third Streets from Market to Race teem with art-going, fun-loving masses.

Warm weather expands the party. You're a part of it as soon as the music from some volunteer street band hits you on your approach. Last Friday night a six-piece drum combo had the crowd moving to a joyful staccato beat.

In the galleries

The galleries offer something for every taste. Many are large enough to accommodate several exhibits in a single space. The Clay Studio is simultaneously showing Mimesis, a collection of intricately painted porcelain in the blue-figured style of 18th Century European ceramics by Molly Hatch, alongside a show of works by Associate Artists.

By popular request, Snyderman-Works Galleries, a standard of excellence among Old City galleries, has re-installed fiber works from the International Biennial. Muse Gallery, a cooperative of local artists, is showcasing new members, so bright blocks of color by several artists fill the space.

As I surged in and out of galleries, riding along on human tide, I was confronted with everything from subtle mono-toned drawings to academic oil landscapes to abstract sculpture to colorful African batik prints.

Pedestrian treachery

Just as interesting as the art in the galleries is the impromptu art market that takes place right under everyone's feet, adding to the party atmosphere as well as to pedestrian treachery. It's like a First Friday Fringe Festival: The quality may not be consistent, but it's forever interesting in its energy and drive.

To be sure, some of this stuff is same-old, same-old amateur art. But I always find at least one or two young artists who are doing something with a point and possess the talent to carry it off pretty well. Peter Maxwell's works, spread out on a pillowcase over a street grate, have a nice touch of early mastery: crisp wooden panels collaged with soft colorful photos, over-painted with brighter color and inked lines.

On the next street, Christine Kennedy presided over her display of colorful crocheted jellyfish. Crocheting, along with other "traditional women's work," has claimed a place in contemporary art and is as legitimate a medium as any other. Kennedy's whimsical spread had just enough of an edge to take seriously.

Prices for the street art are usually just a token. Some of the work may end up in a gallery, so a splurge of $5 for something that catches your eye on the street might turn out to be a good investment, even if only for the story you can tell.

With such a successful event and so many people, cars on those streets are an ill-suited anomaly. Note to City: close those blocks to traffic for First Fridays before somebody gets hurt.

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