Last Friday night, 23 art galleries in Center City participated in Gallery Night, a grown-up version of First Friday.
Gallery Night is a free, biannual event run by Center City District, Center City’s business improvement district, and Central Philadelphia Development Corporation, a non-profit that supports public efforts to renew Center City.
“Gallery Night is a spin-off of Arts and Culture week,” said Michelle Shannon, vice president of marketing and communications for the CCD. “It is designed to be a non-intimidating atmosphere to engage young professionals and get them interested in and thinking about art.”
The event was sponsored by Philadelphia businesses and organizations, including WJJZ 97.5, the Marathon Grill and Rittenhouse Row.
On Friday night, most of the participating galleries were located on or near Rittenhouse Square, but there were a few on the east side of Broad Street and two as far as Washington Square.
The galleries opened at 5 p.m. and served appetizers catered by the Marathon Grill, which provided trays of hummus, cheese and antipasto to each venue. To drink, most galleries served Yellow Tail, a slight improvement over First Friday’s boxed wines.
The majority of the venues were actual art galleries, but a few transformed into galleries just for the evening.
TD Banknorth, a sponsor of the event, cleared the front of the store, dimmed the lights and displayed the work of local artists Stephanie Rogers and Mary Rubino.
“This is a beautiful space,” said Rogers, who agreed to show her art before seeing the bank. “You never know what is going to happen.”
“[Participating in Gallery Night] helps us to differentiate ourselves from other banks,” said Christopher Parker, customer sales and service manager of TD Banknorth at 16th and Walnut streets. “We don’t normally have this many people in the bank.”
The Church of the Holy Trinity, another alternative gallery, invited 52 Philadelphia artists to show one piece. The pieces were lit individually and displayed on easels along the left and right aisles of the church. Engineer Theodore Lewis designed the lighting and set-up.
“The idea was to provide a gallery experience,” Lewis said. “The pews don’t have outlets – lighting was a big challenge.”
The art at the Holy Trinity gallery ranged from abstract multimedia works to watercolor landscapes to photography.
Bonnie Schorske, a street photographer from Philadelphia, displayed South Street, a black and white photo of her grandson sleeping in his stroller in front of a mosaic wall.
“I am inspired by texture, geometry, and humor,” Schorske said. “I like the chaos surrounding the peaceful baby. Originally, I titled the picture Eye of the Storm.”
For the Church of the Holy Trinity, though, participating in Gallery Night was about more than just the art.
“Our goal is for people in the city to realize our doors are always open and all are welcome,” said Soozung Sa Rankin, a staff member of the church. “[We want to] expose people to the church.”
Perhaps the main difference between First Friday and Gallery Night was the style of art.
“There is a broader mix of art at Gallery Night,” said John Schmiechen, artist and coordinator of the artists at the church. “At Gallery Night, there is lots of representational art, and the art is more mainstream [than the art at the First Friday galleries].”
“There are lots of different kinds of galleries [in Center City], but none are really as experimental or avant garde as the galleries in Old City,” said Joey Shensky, artist and sales agent at Newman Galleries on Walnut Street. “Center City galleries don’t have the downtown Pop surrealism of the art in Old City.”
At Gallery Night, the crowd – much like the art – was more conservative than that of First Friday. Generally, the crowd was well-dressed and consisted of young professionals, forty-somethings, college students and affluent elderly people, the only group who appeared to be buying any artwork.
“This [event] attracts a diverse crowd, and hopefully they will buy,” Shensky said. “However, the art is expensive, and this night is more about having a good time.”
Among the more conservative paintings and sculptures of the galleries in Center City, the work in Galleria 1903, located at 19th and Walnut streets, seemed out of place. Larger-than-life mobiles hung from the ceiling, painted cellos and velvet rose chairs lined the perimeter, and huge, colorful paintings of pop icons, cityscapes and abstract designs covered the walls.
Milou, the owner and primary artist who describes himself as a pop impressionist, uses the gallery as his studio. On Friday evening, he was painting while people browsed the gallery.
So, why doesn’t Milou fit in?
“I got started in Old City,” he said.
“Gallery Night is great for the Square – it caters to art lovers and not art buyers.” Milou smiled. “But, it helps to cultivate art buyers.”
Leah Kristie can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.