First Friday dilemmas grow bigger

Amid the parking lots and barely passable maze of streets just west of Chinatown, Jolie Laide, the gallery that opened in July, has lots of big plans. The plans are short term and long term.

Parking lot land, where Jolie Laide makes its home

The gallery property is owned by the same people who own SAAW, Inc., a hip design firm that does interiors for retailers. Urban Outfitters and Anthropologie are two of their retail clients, but the firm does corporate spaces and residential ones as well.  Jolie Laide Gallery Director Travis Heck worked there as an artist and a designer.

Installation shot of the gallery, with sculptures by Lasserre, and paintings (left) by Dean and (right, primary colors) by Smith.

That professional sense of space shows in the gallery’s exposed brick and fancy plaster finish on the walls (venetian plaster if you must know). And it showed in the first show with chair- and architecture-themed art. This month, their show includes fragile what-is-its with encrusted surfaces from Fabienne Lasserre (contributor Emmy Thelander recently wrote about Lasserre’s show in Brooklyn), and dark narrative paintings from two artists–Joel Dean’s torutured figures in abstract tangles and Leslie Smith III’s ordinary, even cheerful, pictures of menace. Lasserre was the stand-out here, with her not quite people and not quite furniture.

Fabienne Lasserre’s piece looks like an exhausted table and many other things

Jolie Laide’s big gallery space is a beachhead for a virtual compound. In the long term, the gallery has a couple of project spaces, one right across the street and another in the works. And this First Friday, to augment the opening reception for a show of work by Robert Horvath, 6-9 p.m., the gallery will take over the surrounding, never-used streets with performance and installations from an exciting crew, including recent Penn MFA Heather Ramsdale and suddenly-he’s-everywhere Tim Eads. Plus it looks like a terrific party. There’s more incredible stuff coming up the next evening (8-10 p.m.) by another recent Penn MFA, Jacolby Satterwhite, whose video/performance blew us away at the Penn show at the Ice Box. Music, too!

Heather Ramsdale, A Separate Time of Alone, 8 feet high by 12 feet x 5 feet, Nathan Thomas demos the piece

What I’m getting around to, however, is that with Jolie Laide, the Chinatown art scene has achieved critical mass.  Most of you know this, but for those who don’t, the neighborhood includes all the galleries in 319 N. 11th (Vox Populi, Marginal Utility, Grizzly Grizzly, Tiger Strikes Asteroid are the main players there right now), Space 1026 and the Fabric Workshop and Museum both on Arch, and the Asian Arts Initiative on Vine (I keep hoping their art program revives to equal the glory days; right now they seem more focused on performance and I have to assume that’s where there’s more funding money is available, a reflection of what’s wrong with the world of non-profits).

First Fridays has become delightfully impossible for us. Should we go to Chinatown? to Frankford? to Kensington? to NoLibs? or to dear old Old City? The city’s inaction in encouraging a gallery zone has had a happy result. All of these nabes are getting a boost. But this wealth of goodies means we are missing great stuff. And it has forced us to have lots of interns, fanning out across the city to cover each of the neighborhoods. We can’t do it all. But we want to.