Since 2007, downtown’s Brady Arts District has hosted the First Friday Art Crawl, in which local museums and businesses are opened up once a month for special events and galleries, allowing anyone to walk in for free to experience art and music. The event always entices plenty of Tulsans into heading downtown for the night, and this month was no different. The evening air was cool and refreshing, perfect conditions for me to walk downtown and see what caught my eye.
I began the night with dinner at Hey Mambo, an excellent Italian restaurant one block south of Guthrie Green. The restaurant feels open and modern, with walls painted in soft colors and a full wall of windows facing Boston Ave. and the restaurant’s outdoor patio seating. The wall opposite the windows featured a series of portraits by Laura Abbott.
The portraits all seemed to feature the same female face in different styles and surroundings, making each piece unique while making them all feel like part of a larger collection, a representation of the different experiences and emotions the subject has felt throughout her life. Hey Mambo was also featuring a musical performance from the local jazz trio 7 Blue, but they were just beginning their soundcheck as I was leaving.
I moved on to the Zarrow Center to see Jenny Robinson’s “Struc.ture,” a series of large monoprints looking at “themes of atmosphere and corrosion.” The prints looked like intricate structures of buildings mostly devoid of color, giving the pieces a feeling of destruction and age. Some prints were upwards of 40”X40”, making the viewer look up to the top of the piece and feel like they’re looking at a large structure past its prime.
Zarrow Center also featured a series of photographs of Bob Dylan titled “Don’t Look Back.” The series, photographed by D. A. Pennebaker, looks at Dylan’s 1965 United Kingdom tour. I’ll admit that I don’t know much about Bob Dylan, but the pictures do an effective job of depicting Dylan as pensive and dedicated to his craft.
Leaving the Zarrow Center and heading toward Philbrook Downtown, I quickly noticed singing and tambourines on Brady St. that wasn’t there when I entered Zarrow. Working my way to the front of the circle that had developed, I saw a group of TU Theater students performing a track from the musical “Hair,” opening next week. The students had great energy while performing, engaging the crowd and giving the song a very full sound with almost no instrumentation. After the street performance was over, the performers quickly handed out fliers for the show and left, presumably going to another venue.
Philbrook Downtown featured their usual instillations, some new but many I had seen the last time I went to First Friday a few months ago. One that I found particularly interesting was a collection from Mike Glier titled “Alphabet of Lili.” This series of acrylic and charcoal pieces was made in the early 90s, aiming to deconstruct traditional masculinity and mankind’s impact on the earth. Though I found the themes difficult to discern in some parts of the collection, I considered the pieces very aesthetically interesting and appreciated some consistent elements like a disembodied pair of legs representing mankind in different contexts.
After leaving Philbrook, I went next door to 108 Contemporary, where there was an opening reception for the “Vision Makers 2016.” The collection was comprised of new work from artists in Oklahoma and surrounding states like Kansas and Texas. There really wasn’t anything in this collection that grabbed my attention, and I found myself simply walking through and not finding much of a reason to stay. I’ve enjoyed past exhibits at 108 Contemporary, but the current exhibit just seemed dull to me.
The last gallery I went to was the Woody Guthrie Center. I know about as little about Woody Guthrie as I do about Bob Dylan, so the Guthrie memorabilia wasn’t that enticing to me. What I did find interesting at the Center, however, was a performance by the Tulsa Oratorio Chorus. The Chorus was performing a series of shape note hymns, a style that developed in the early 1800s designed to be easy to learn with simple harmonies. The conductor explained that, contrary to other western music that uses different parts moving opposite each other, shape note focuses on harmonies that move in the same direction. This was easy to notice in the hymns the chorus sang, as the consistent intervals made the relatively small chorus feel much more powerful than I thought they would be.
After watching the Oratorio Chorus, I decided to go to some of the smaller shops down Brady St. I came across a live glassblowing demonstration at Tulsa Glassblowing school, and lining the street were some street performers and small art stands, with everything from paintings to percussion to fire throwing. I didn’t spend too much time wandering Brady St. because the Tulsa Ballet was about to begin performing on Guthrie Green.
The ballet performance was comprised of two pieces. The first piece, Jennifer Archibald’s “Omens,” was performed by Tulsa Ballet II, a pre-professional company for up-and-coming performers. The piece was about 20 minutes long, with different combinations of performers coming on- and off-stage to dance to a soundtrack of mostly string instruments. I don’t know much about ballet, but I was consistently impressed by the fluidity of movement and interactions between the dancers. However, it did seem at quite a few points that multiple dancers doing the same moves weren’t very well synchronized.
The second performance, done by the Tulsa Ballet Main Company, was “Love Notes” by Nicolo Fonte. The piece was written specifically for the Tulsa Ballet, and it was clear that the company was very comfortable with the piece as they performed it. Instead of string accompaniment, “Love Notes” was set to a series of songs by Nina Simone, a jazz/soul pianist and singer popular in the 1960s. Her sequence of songs seemed to tell a story of jealousy, passion and love. The ballet was clearly segmented into smaller pieces based on each of Simone’s different songs, and the theme and lyrical content of each track was evident in the dancing. Softer songs would feature more fluid movement and a blue light, whereas more upbeat songs would have more a yellow light and more pops and locks in the movement. Movement between dancers was better synchronized than in the earlier performance, and the Main Company was pulling off much flashier routines than Ballet II.
I’ve been to other First Friday Art Crawls before, but this month’s was the best in terms of providing a variety of experience. Between the traditional prints and paintings, the musical performances, and the ballet to close the night, I left the night feeling like I had a great sample of everything Tulsa’s art scene had to offer. I was downtown for three hours, and only got to about a fourth of the venues the Brady Arts District had to offer. I’m definitely looking forward to going back to see more of the smaller venues, and I definitely recommend the event to anyone interested in checking out Tulsa’s local art scene.