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[whitespace] Beer Beer Busts: The true art of First Thursday is getting one's drunk for free.

Photograph by Christopher Gardner


Gallery Fix

Get your groove and your culture on at downtown's 'First Thursdays'

By Todd Dayton

'I find it fascinating," says a man in a bowler hat, in reference to an art installation that's practically straight out of the garage sale I held last week. Ten-year-old computer monitors are piled on top of boxes of junk; broken lamps are perched on stacks of old high school textbooks. Some sort of contraption is dripping water from the ceiling into strategically placed bowls and cups amid all the other discarded items. The artist says to a hanger-on, "It's sort of along the idea that we can remake nature better than it is already."

"Oh, now that's interesting," she replies. It's starting to seem that way now, after I've pounded my fourth glass of complimentary chardonnay. It's definitely getting more interesting by the minute. I head back to the wine counter for a refill.

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Paintings by Numbers: Road rules for First Thursday.

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On the first Thursday of each month, the off-Union Square art galleries open to the public, using free wine, hors d'oeuvres and a burgeoning social scene to entice buyers to their newly curated shows. With so many galleries open along such a short stretch of pavement, it's the art geek's equivalent of club hopping.

The gallery's practically filled to capacity with art people. I've come with a date, but I'm certain that if I hadn't, this would be the place to hook up with someone. Beautiful people are wandering around the room, checking each other out probably more than they're taking in the stuff on the walls. The glances I'm getting are the long, drawn-out kind that I'd never get in a bar. And these are some beautiful people indeed. Couples are wandering in through the door too, but even these ladies' eyes are a-wandering. It's a girlfriend-stealer's paradise.

Erica says the pickins are a bit slim for women. A handful of turtlenecked sugar-daddy types wander about with gallery price lists in their hands, grubbing along between art tartlets half their age. I agree with her; there is truly a scarcity of good-looking gents. I wander into another room where women outnumber men 2-to-1.

There's no food in this gallery, so we head down the hall to another one in the same building. It's just a tiny room, crammed with pastel-colored paintings of rectangles and squares. A bowl of almonds rests on the table and a kid wearing an Adidas track suit and headphones is staring at it like it's part of the exhibition. He snaps out of it when I grab two handfuls.

"I like it when they're wet," a woman says in a sensuous voice. She's got her nose to a piece and you can see the luster of drying paint on the canvas. The slightest hint of oil paint hangs in the air as we head out the door.

Down the street we find a less crowded gallery offering breadsticks and more wine. They're topping the cups off here, so we decide to stick around a while despite the relative shortage of artworks. Some of the same faces I'd seen earlier have wandered in behind us. Now the glances I'm getting are really drawn-out. Or I'm getting really drunk. Maybe that's why they're so drawn-out. I eat more breadsticks. Refills are heartily poured.

We've been drunkenly assaulting the artists at all the receptions. Aside from the dripping-pile-of-garbage artist in the first gallery, they're all down-to-earth in a disturbing sort of way. I'm sort of expecting a freakout, or the elaborate confession of a tortured soul. Painters speak straightforwardly about what they meant to do. They laugh about people's reactions to their work. One artist explains how he poured molten glass in a waffle iron to make Eggos for the toaster he's constructed from sheet metal. I'm blown away by how un-weird all of these creative geniuses are.

We end our night at Hang, which has the best spread of food--despite being heavily picked over by the time we get there--the most wine and the cheapest art. We've come home. Everyone's friendly and there are twinkle-eyed artisttypes (not artists, mind you) making eyes at us. We hang around until all the food and booze are gone. It's only 8:30 and we're all loaded to the nines. We'll be back in a month .

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From the September 27, 1999 issue of the Metropolitan.

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