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First Fridays Extravaganza Highlights

Chicago kicks off the new exhibition season.

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Ben Stone at Western Exhibitions

Ben Stone at Western Exhibitions

In France, everyone goes back to school on the same day, from toddlers to university students. On this dreaded of days, known as la rentree, the sleepy quiet of Paris in August is rudely shattered by the return of crazy traffic, hordes of children running to get to school on time, and really long lines at the bakery. It’s sort of annoying, but exciting at the same time.

First Fridays is sort of like la rentree for Chicago’s art scene, and on September 10, many of us once again took to the streets for this drunken orgy of openings. This was my third year of trudging around the West Loop for the event, and the third year of hearing everyone say the same thing: “Wow, this is crazy, I can’t remember anything I saw…it’s too overwhelming!” “I am so drunk…” and “No one comes for the art anyway.”

Since we all love to state (and repeat) the obvious, I’ll join the bandwagon: no, most people don’t come for the art, yes, there’s a lot of drinking going on, and indeed, given the crush of people, it’s hard to see anything. I myself spent most of my time looking around galleries for friends, instead of looking around to see what was on the walls, and there was a lot of squealing and “how was your summer!!” going on. And just like la rentree, the whole experience was colored by alternating waves of annoyance and friendly excitement.

Despite all the rampant socializing, though, a few things did manage to catch my otherwise-occupied eye that evening, which I will be returning to see and which I would recommend others check out as well: namely, Ben Stone’s work at Western Exhibitions, featuring bold, colorful, often cartoonish sculpture inspired by pop culture and current events. Another exhibition that stuck in my head was Kelly Kaczinsky’s solo show at threewalls, “The Stagehand’s Unseen.” Full disclosure: I am a threewalls intern, so that undoubtedly had something to do with me remembering Kelly’s work–but I still recommend everyone see it.

In the end, the swapping of “summer vacation” stories and the crisp soon-to-be-autumnal air sapped me of the festive spirit and instead left me with the melancholy desire to buy number 2 pencils and loose-leaf paper. But at least we have a new season of absinthe-flavored openings to look forward to.

–Ania Szremski

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