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Thursday, October 2, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 63.0° F  Overcast
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Art and drinks mix at First Fridays
Kevin Tubb at this month's country-themed event.
Kevin Tubb at this month's country-themed event.
Credit:Mark Sibley

First Fridays
Madison Museum of Contemporary Art
First Friday of the month, 5:30-8 p.m. The next event is Dec. 1.

We all know Jerry Frautschi wields a lot of influence, but is the local philanthropist able to control the twilight? On Oct. 6, the gloaming cast his baby, the Overture Center, in an impossibly flattering light, especially when the sunset was viewed from the glass prism at the western corner of the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art, Overture's final addition.

The occasion was one of the museum's First Friday events, when the doors are thrown open to visitors interested in art, drinks and music, perhaps in that order. The sunset was best seen from the top of the staircase in that atrium, which faces State and Henry Streets, and anyone who paused there could take in the sight of a teeming downtown nightlife district at just the moment that evening was getting under way.

As construction cranes and church steeples gleamed attractively in the distance, young music fans queued up at the Orpheum, across State Street, for a performance of the Denver rock band the Fray. Other entertainment lovers were piling into Overture Center for the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra or the musical Hairspray. Meanwhile, the usual throngs were making their way from one tavern to the next.

Amid all this hubbub was the splendid museum, which accommodated crowds who had come not only because of the First Friday activities, but also because it was Gallery Night. Throughout the museum's lobby areas, patrons milled about and sipped from wine glasses, and people wanting a snort of their own made their way rapidly up to Fresco, the bar and restaurant on the roof.

Out in the roof garden, portable heaters warmed up a crowd that at 7 p.m. numbered about 80. They were listening to the country band Kevin Tubb & the Lonely Stars, who played a set that featured original music and a cover of Bob Dylan's Nashville-inflected 'Lay Lady Lay.' The event indeed was country-themed by design, which meant that a wagon wheel was conspicuous, and numerous guests wore cowboy hats. Wearers of cowboy hats got into the museum free that night.

Meanwhile, inside the restaurant's glass walls, people were eating their dinners and their desserts. (I had my eye on a pear brÃlÃe.)

And oh yes: There also was art. The celebrated exhibit of prints by Chuck Close was in its last days at the museum, and in its gallery an all-ages group of about 100 gathered to hear a talk, by UW-Madison art professor emeritus Bill Weege, about Close's colossal print of the painter Alex Katz. Others watched a documentary about Close on a flat-panel display, and still others roamed among Close's striking portraits, which were rendered in plywood, lithograph and throw rug.

In the basement of the museum is a workshop area, and that night representatives of the Wisconsin Center for Book & Paper Arts had outfitted the space with hands-on activities for the young and old alike. One table let guests make books out of scraps of paper, and at another visitors contributed to a print done in the style of Close, with dyes made up of cloth fibers.

First Fridays are cheerful, bustling affairs ' fine-art events for lovers of the nightlife and vice versa.

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