Art's Quest to Survive 

Art Quest 2 unveils a newly transformed 40th Street corridor.

It's been a tough couple of years for car dealerships, which partly explains why Oakland's Broadway Auto Row — Broadway between 40th Street and Grand Avenue — doesn't quite make good on its name anymore. Once the territory of automotive servicers and big lots with pennants flapping in the wind, it's now a budding retail node. Chic nightclubs, body therapy centers, and furniture stores girdle the parking lots and the rim-and-wheel shops. This transformation is most noticeable on the southwesterly blocks that border Oakland's Uptown district and on the 40th Street corridor, which now has enough merchants and galleries to support its own mini Art Murmur.

Called Art Quest, the event began last February, the brainchild of local curator Obi Kaufman and sculpture artist Derek Weisberg. Both of them had openings on the same weekend — Weisberg at Rowan Morrison Gallery, Kaufman right up the street at Premium Tattoo and Vintage. The two decided to combine forces, thinking wouldn't it be something if they could involve the other neighborhood businesses. The 40th Street corridor was, after all, an ideal place for an art walk, said Kaufman. Many venues in the area doubled as galleries — including less-obvious spots like Manifesto Bicycles, Issues magazine shop, and 1-2-3-4 Go! Records. Most of these places had popped up within the last year or so, and were still trying to attract clientele. An evening of simultaneous receptions and extended hours of operation would help draw people to the area, and help create a neighborhood brand identity.

Thus, Kaufman and Weisberg got together with Premium Vintage and Tattoo owners Matt and Hillary Decker, Noella Teele of Issues, and Pete Glover of Rowan Morrison Gallery to organize the inaugural Art Quest. It was a cinch, said Kaufman: "It's easy in the sense that there's so much art, and we're not really hurting for product or inventory." Their first edition happened on a rainy night in February, but tons of people came out anyway. Kaufman showcased his large-scale paintings at Premium, and put together a group exhibit in the back gallery at Manifesto. Weisberg showcased weird sculptural installations in Rowan Morrison. Matt Decker presented his meticulous, tattoo-inspired paintings at Issues. Bands performed. Vendors hawked artisan goods. It was a hit, said Kaufman, who hopes to replicate that success with Saturday's Art Quest 2, which now features two new businesses: 1-2-3-4 Go! Records and Subrosa Coffee. He's careful to note that art isn't a recession-proof business, and that if you think it's hard to sell a gas guzzler these days, try a painting. Still, the Auto Row galleries do have one thing in common with the dealerships that predate them: a common sense of purpose. "If you get the synergy and massiveness together," he said, "there's more of a chance." Art Quest 2 happens Saturday, Aug. 22, along the 40th Street corridor. 5-9 p.m., free.


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