For most Kansas Citians, First Fridays last only one fleeting night a month. But for Crossroads denizens, there are preparations to be made. Parking spots must be claimed early (or not at all). Dogs plagued with performance anxiety must be walked early enough to do their business without an audience. That vigilante crosswalk you’ve been determined to paint at 20th Street and Baltimore? You gotta paint that shit Thursday night if you expect it to dry in time for the onslaught.
Restaurant owners overstock their kitchens. Gallery owners and employees hover in doorways, waiting on deliveries. Local artists and their friends show up in the neighborhood earlier in the week to carry on the beer-addled tradition of small “installation parties.” Out-of-town artists hurry to get here, taking downtown Kansas City exits from the highway with plastic-sheathed canvases in tow. The six or so blocks that make up the Crossroads buzz with the same jitteriness that overtakes resort towns right before tourist season hits.
Painter Eric Sall knows this buzz all too well. Having spent most of his teenage years in Deadwood, South Dakota — the town that legalized gambling in homage to its Wild West saloon roots — Sall made the most of the excitement. As of the day before last Friday’s opening at the Dolphin Gallery, he’d already sold almost half of the pieces in his solo show. In fact, he’d sold four paintings from the show before he even finished installing it. This, everyone agrees, is most unusual.
“There’s a handful of people who have bought pieces from me in the past,” says Sall, a former Kansas Citian who now lives in Richmond, Virginia. He keeps in touch with prospective art buyers by e-mail, letting them know what he’s working on and sending them images of his pieces when he’s finished with them. One of those correspondents actually showed up last week to help him pull the paintings out of his truck, he says, somewhat stunned.
Standing in a room full of his own huge, abstract neon paintings at the Dolphin, Sall explains that this is the first show he’s had in the Crossroads since the neighborhood scene exploded. Having already sold much of the work in the show frees him up to enjoy it.
Making the whole scenario even more perfect is the fact that the Dolphin — unlike most galleries in town — is well staffed by numerous strong-bodied helpers, whose role in First Fridays preparation should not be underestimated. “I just kind of opened the plastic,” Sall says, “and that’s when the magic elves came out of the woodwork. I like that.”