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The esprit de corps dies fast at our next stop: the Fort Knox of the hard-to-crack First Thursdays venues. Perched atop the Westin Peachtree Plaza, the Sun Dial restaurant features a regular rotation of curated exhibitions in its Paint in the Pods series.
It feels like a Prohibition speakeasy. We approach the pretty receptionist, utter the secret word "art" and are directed to a velvet rope where we join a line for the elevator. We chat with a trio of men in identical blue shirts. They're in town for a convention, they say -- something about "component technologies." When we've served enough time, the receptionist upgrades us into a more free-range purgatory between the rope and the elevator doors.
When I finally make it to the top and spy actual art, I finally understand the elation immigrants must have felt upon first glimpsing the Statue of Liberty.
Young Blood Gallery & Boutique
Unpretentious, hip, but not intimidatingly so, the 9-year-old Young Blood sits in a still-clinging-to-badass segment of Grant Park. Young Blood is often more cutting-edge than any other intown gallery. Co-founders Maggie White and Kelly Teasley crystal-balled the culture jamming thing, the indie craft phenomenon, California lowbrow, the resurgence of graffiti art and other trends that one day will be appropriated by high-end galleries. One of those trends is work created by collectives of young artists.
Golden Blizzard, a cutely cultish eight-member art collective, is headlining tonight's opening. Team member Alex Kvares stands outside the gallery, a vision in his Royal Tenenbaum-style sports-geek sweatjacket and ironic bling. The "GB" logo is embroidered in sparkly gold on his white wristband.
"Thanks for coming," purrs his colleague, Ellen Black. Souped up in a customized nurse's outfit, she joins other collective members who are posing for pictures in their gold-on-white uniforms next to a conceptual spread of white food: yogurt-covered pretzels, macaroons, white sandwich cookies.
"Is it part of the project?" I ask my companion, who's also reluctant to touch. Finally, someone breaks the ice by grabbing some food. Eating, rather than pondering, is the appropriate response.
Golden Blizzard collaborates on drawings that somehow incorporate both the feminine yin of small furry animals with a masculine yang of oozing pustules, sex organs, blood and death. Gallery-goers have to bend at the waist and crane to see the tiny drawings on display. They move slowly to the left like a geriatric conga line.
Best of all, the usual uptight, stuffy mood of an "art opening" has been traded for one of freewheeling quirkiness. As I leave, banjo player Thomas Barnwell is still picking bluegrass -- uncharacteristic for an art opening -- from his rocking chair perch.
Octane Coffee Bar & Lounge
Regulars hunkered over their laptops look slightly mystified by people milling around in tight clots inside the west side java hut.
Such is the double-duty fallout of a gallery opening staged at a busy coffee shop for religio-folk artist and Hollis Gillespie posse member Grant Henry, aka Sister Louisa. With a hoop skirt of acolytes at his side and his paint-smeared shirt declaring "Let Them Eat Cake," it's easy to finger Henry as the artist.
The exposed brick walls have never looked better than now, graced with Sister Louisa's appropriated wood-framed works. Henry paints whimsical blasphemy over paint-by-numbers-style portraits of praying Jesuses and Southern ladies in towering beehives.
Henry tells me Jim and Tammy Faye's son, Jay Bakker, is a fan. That's almost as good as God's approval.
In keeping with the Southern kitsch theme, Henry offers a break from the usual cheese cubes and wine. He offers a spread of angel food cake and deviled eggs.
The laptop crowd that's just here for coffee and a peaceful place to peck away looks increasingly put out by the art aficionados, who throw shade over their tiny tables to get a closer gander at the God art.
"God I Wish I Could Quit You," one blares. "God Bless Our Crack House," says another. Henry's selling his work in Antichrist sums, from $66.60 to $266.60, though, as the price list notes, "Salvation: Free."
The Swan Coach House and the Bennett Street Carnival Promenade
This could be the 1950s. A waiter comes around with trays of mayonnaise-laced finger sandwiches. Spinach dip and crudité sit on a table.
Every man over the age of 35 looks dapper in a sports jacket or suit. All the women seem to be immaculately turned-out blondes with perfect newscaster-meets-Grace Kelly coiffures, outfitted in stylish suits, and sporting great accessories and important pocketbooks.
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