If I lose a button off my dress during the course of the evening, is it cause for pride or embarrassment?
My first stop was Sabai, where I ran into friends - a musical married couple - eating dinner and wound up having a lengthy discussion of documentaries once we discovered we're all documentary dorks. Happily for me, they have a secret club where they show docs to other dorks so now I can join my people on a regular basis for non-fiction film.
Stop #2 was Glave Kocen Gallery for the opening of Alex Nyerges' first solo photography show, "Chasing the Light," which was abuzz with rich-looking people (a good thing since sales of the photographs were benefiting VMFA) when I arrived in my thrift store dress and shoes.
Servers were passing hors d'oeuvres from Heritage across the street, including spoonfuls of beets and burrata that went down like silk.
The first person I recognized was a blue-clad gallerist, followed by a painter who's recently become a first-time father. When I asked about the little one, he said they were in the back, away from the fray, but he also had made a point to bring the baby to start exposing her to art. I like that kind of thinking.
Further on, I saw a favorite printmaker who excitedly told me about the new Studio 23 printmaking collective space in Scott's Addition where she has a studio of her own. When the gallerist joined us, she started to introduce us, only to hear that we already knew each other.
"Of course, Karen knows everyone," she joked. Not true, but good for a laugh.
I already knew plenty about the show because I'd written a piece for Style Weekly about it after a long and enjoyable conversation with the photographer a few weeks ago. We'd hit it off because he's a runner and although my pace as a walker is slower, we bonded over the advantages of seeing the world from your feet rather than a car.
Unlike me, he carries a camera with him when he runs, meaning he's able to capture early morning moments that few are around to see. Add in that his job as director of the VMFA takes him all over the world and it's a recipe for compelling photographs.
Walking around the room to view the prints and read the artist's statements took me to Key West, China, Baltimore, San Francisco and France, among others, with the only common thread being each black and white photograph's heightened sense of contrast. Darks were the blackest black while lights were luminescent, almost heavenly in places.
The man has such a great eye, all the more so for shooting in color and then printing in black and white. The show had exactly one full color image - taken just before a close friend died - and one with the tiniest hint of color taken through a shower window.
It was fascinating to me to overhear people reacting to photographs of the James River, mainly because they were completely unfamiliar with the views of the bridges and train trestles every walker and runner in this city knows so well. "That's in Richmond?" was a frequent refrain. Sure is.
Several photographs already had the telltale red dots next to them denoting "sold" status and I saw a couple trying to narrow their choice to just one. With no such ability to buy, I just admired.
After much deliberation, I think my favorite was a view from San Francisco taken from the middle of a hilly street on which "STOP" had been painted. The image pulled your eye in until it was following the street up and down hills, past buildings to the horizon. My mind and stomach sensed the up and down motion of the terrain just standing in front of the picture.
It passed the "could I look at it every day?" test with flying colors.
When I felt a tap on my shoulder, I turned to see a smiling man with his hand outstretched. In it was one of the shiny gold buttons that marched, double-breasted, down my navy blue dress.
"I saw this on the floor and I'd seen you in your dress earlier, so I thought it might be yours," he explained. It was a good guess, although embossed gold buttons are a bit of a giveaway.
How had I lost it, hugging someone maybe? Or had I caught it on one of the pedestals when I leaned over trying to view a photograph while people stood blathering with their backs to it? Maybe it was just one of those chance things whereby life has you meet someone you might not otherwise.
Because, contrary to popular opinion, I don't yet know everybody. Never underestimate the power of a dress...especially one that leaves a button trail.