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Oakland Art Murmur

December 10, 2007

Ever since rents rose to prohibitive heights, artists have been leaving San Francisco and setting up shop across the Bay in Oakland. It's the same old story everywhere. New York is a case in point: The creative community all abandoned Manhattan's nether regions and decamped for Brooklyn decades ago.

On Friday night, I got a group of eight friends together for the Oakland Art Murmur -- the city's open gallery soiree which takes place on the first Friday of every month.

What a great event. The streets around Telegraph and Grand (where many of the galleries on the tour are bunched) were packed with people. Most of them were white trendy types in their thirties, but I did glimpse a bit of variety as the night progressed -- there were older people and black people here and there.

Some of the galleries unfortunately reminded me of hipster stores in The Mission district of San Francisco. I wasn't too impressed with the much-lauded Rock Paper Scissors collective. The random assortment of rocks in one corner of the room and stands displaying various trinkets for sale such as 'zines and knitted hats weren't all that inspiring.

Of greater interest was Johansson Projects just across the street, where an exhibition of fine-crafted wooden installations by three different artists made me linger for quite a while. I also enjoyed Esteban Sabar and Buzz Gallery for the breadth and quality of the work on display, which ranged from "Gollum"-like figurines with big feet made out of plaster to entire walls covered in white paper on which piles of garbage had been skilfully painted in delicate water colors. Buzz even had a live installation in the form of a twenty-something Asian guy in a white leisure suit jumping about while doing karaoke to Madonna songs. Oakopolis was also a great find. I would have gladly plunked $20 down for a fake moustache on a stick carved out of some kind of African nut had I been feeling richer.

Just being out in downtown Oakland wandering between the assorted quirky spaces made me sublimely happy about my own decision to quit San Francisco's Haight district (where I had lived for five terrific years) and move to the Adam's Point neighborhood in Oakland. What seemed like terra incognita a few months ago is beginning to feel slightly -- and wonderfully -- familiar.

Viva Oaktown.

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