On Friday night, the Zhou B. Art Center stood out from the surrounding Bridgeport skyline, bathed in light, streaming with banners, and looking to all observers like it didn’t belong there with the old packing plant opposite it obviously abandoned and in disrepair, and an odd smell beginning to spread down 35th Street. The grand old warehouse–87,000 square feet, purchased by the international superstars the Zhou Brothers to become the new center for the arts in Chicago–was made grander still by Friday’s festivities: Art Roc, essentially a gigantic fashionable party to benefit Chicago’s arts community, with the profits from steeply priced alcohol and a silent art auction in addition to corporate sponsorships, going to benefit an organization that supports active artists with monetary stipends for necessities like food and rent.
Inside, the center was a flurry of activity, packed with fast-talking fashionistas, the hip high-culture crowd, and drunken scenesters. In the main gallery (the center is a museum and gallery space when not in use for events), Chicago band Lindbergh was playing atmospheric pop-rock which an onlooker audibly described as “grand but bland” in the style of U2 or Coldplay. The walls were decked with some of the early work of the Zhous–vaguely dark, impenetrable, beautiful. Several artists spread throughout the enormous first floor were actively painting, gathering their own audiences.
The real spectacle, though, was the Zhou B. Art Center itself. The cafÃ© and gift shop were officially opened, and the area was operating at the height of its capacities as an aesthetic and social space. Alcohol flowed freely, art was being made–and so were friends. The normally reserved Zhou Shanzuo, the older of the brothers, greeted guests at the entrance like a proud father: “So glad to see you … yes, isn’t it wonderful?!” His long hair flowed over the shoulders of his pinstriped suit; he looked like a godfather for the arts. Meanwhile, his brother Dahuang walked around the space, curiously inconspicuous in a black trench coat and fedora. Between songs by the rock band on stage, a guest approaches him and shouts (due to hearing loss, or giddiness): “Great party!” He replies, “Great party, yeah!” He smiles. “And we’re just getting started!”