As a museum employee, I have occasion to make appearances at a lot of exhibition openings. Preview receptions—whether at the Chazen Museum of Art, MMOCA, the Unions, or various local galleries—are frequently happening around campus, and are the perfect way to add a bit of sparkle to your social calendar. My coworkers and I have developed an opening night ritual: primping at my apartment, going to the show to mingle under the guise of art appreciation, then taking our dolled up selves to Sotto for dancing until the wee hours of the morning. Our night out at the preview reception for a new show of contemporary Native American art, “Changing Hands: Art without Reservation” at the Chazen is the insider’s guide to attending any art event in town.
Step 1: Primp
The staples of an exhibition prep party are magazines and light snacks. I opted for popcorn, hazelnut chocolates, and sparkling water (to leave room for the many hors d’oeuvres, passed on platters by cute waiters), coupled with the latest Vogue and Elle. Once snacks are consumed and magazines perused, the dressing begins. Air on the side of dressy, with just enough casual to be cool. Flaunt a favorite frock, but throw on a leather jacket, or opt for ankle boots instead of those fancy peep-toe pumps.
An art event pro-tip: check out the social media and related press for the event or a preview in a local publication, as they usually include an image of at least one work in the exhibition. Use these resources to plan your outfit; always compliment and never clash with the works on display. I wore black and white jacquard Topshop dress, black tear-drop Kate Spade necklace, and a gold Cambridge Satchel Company bag. Remember that photographers are always scouting the exhibition for those who will look best in their event photos!
An effortless “oh, I just remembered I have an opening tonight, but I miraculously compliment the exhibition” is the target look. If a preview is not possible, old reliable—the perfect LBD—is your best bet for meshing well with any collection of art. Pair with a bold accent color, like an orange heel or cobalt clutch, and an artsy mani. Your fingers are tiny canvases that can be painted in tandem with the theme of exhibition. The perfect manicure muse? Cult London nail bar, WAH Nails and their Lichtenstein-esque pop art nails.
Your dress is perfect, your hair is done, your nails are dry, and your girls are done frantically rushing about your tiny apartment in those final precious primping moments. What’s next?
Step 2: Party
Sometimes the fashionable 15-minutes-late may not work if the exhibition opens with a performance (like Thursday’s traditional dance by a local Native American tribe) but sometimes wrangling a gaggle of girls to an event on time just is not in the cards (according to reliable sources, I missed witnessing the director of the museum dancing in the aforementioned traditional dance. Rats!). Aim for almost on time!
What I have learned about preview receptions is that these events are less about looking art and more about seeing and being seen. Mingle as you wander between display cases, take that bacon-wrapped-something-or-other from that cute waiter, and enjoy being around your fellow lovers of culture. An exhibition opening can easily make you forget that you reside in a world of all-nighters at College Library and messy frat parties.
But what about taking in the art? Do it another time. I go back a few days after the event to spend time with the art in quiet solitude. It is best to intimately experience an exhibition without the opinions of others clinging to works that are still fresh to your eyes. At the event, focus on your friends and networking.
The party is winding down. You are tired of trying to remember slides from that intro Art History course to relate the exhibition to. It’s time to go, but the night is young!
Step 3: After Party
Thursday nights—the Chazen’s late night, and subsequently the night of all exhibition openings—also happens to be Sotto’s 18+ night. This can mean only one thing: dancing until 2 in the morning. You didn’t spend all that time primping for just two hours at a museum! Sotto is just off of State Street, and the perfect locale for an unabashed Britney Spears dance circle with the girls.
Crawl into bed around 3, head full from an evening of art and ears ringing from a night of loud dance music. Wash, rinse, repeat.
If you didn’t make it out on Thursday, “Changing Hands” will run until April 27. You can read a review of it here.
Bummed you missed this museum-night-out? No worries, love. There’s another on February 27, which you can check out on the Chazen’s event calendar.