Tonight, in one downtown site, perspiring art lovers will juggle wine and gawk at a special celebrity preview. It is composed of art by Anisa and Roderick Romero of the rock band Sky Cries Mary. From her oil paintings - done in real time, from life - to his prints, collage and photographs, it is a typical art-gallery private opening.
Except that, in a slightly different part of town, there will be a public version of the same party. There, via video feeds and computers, anyone who wants to may attend in parallel time. And what they see will be available everywhere - as the Internet's first live gallery opening.
Some of the pieces on view have never been seen in public. Others are familiar as packaging for the artists' records. All will be visible on the World Wide Web, thanks to an enterprising new company, I-music.
Space considerations spawned the online idea. Neither Romero wanted an "elitist" opening. One solution, they decided, was the Internet. Now, fans who assemble at Belltown's Speakeasy Cafe can play their own part in the opening - as they view its progress by computer.
In addition to the pieces on the walls of the Metropolis Gallery, they can follow the evening with what's known as "server-push animation": constant, sequential stills of the private view as it happens.
If fans live too far or work too late, they can choose their own wine and then fire up a home computer. Just by typing I-music's address into a Web browser, software that allows the user access to the graphical portion of the Internet, they will be transported to the gallery. Virtual attendees also get a special bonus: Although the privateview must end by 8 p.m., I-music's Virtual Wine and Cheese Room never closes. All it does is start to blur as you imbibe.
Both Romeros are comfortable with the combination. "It's an extra for our fans around the world," says Anisa. "But my work itself is traditional. I paint one theme, basically: the female form. I paint from the model and all my models are friends. That makes a major difference - I also model for them."
Although her work is recent, the impulse behind it is not. It dates from a course of cancer treatments years ago. Says Anisa, "My art is dedicated to the divine mother. She gave me hope and health, which I celebrate."
Her exhibition, titled "Femme & Flora," contains work from 1995. There are large, formal paintings plus 16 prints. The latter are Polaroid transfers printed on handmade papers. Every two weeks on the Web, one will be given away.
The same will apply to Roderick Romero's art: seven photographs, three collages and four prints. The latter are originals from a book, "The Extended Moment." He describes it as "a combination long poem and short story."
In the event's spirit of collaboration, "The Extended Moment" is a partnership with Daniel Smith, one of Seattle's young graphic designers. Smith also handled the World Wide Web design.
It's a party
This event is a first - two physical gatherings linked to a cyberparty. Backed by commercial online service CompuServe and Virtual Vineyards (a Net-savvy wineseller), it is the brainchild of Seattleite Scott Blum, who until recently worked for Paul Allen's Starwave Corp. For him, this marks the start of an independent venture.
"Five weeks back, I left Starwave. One week later, I had my own company," Blum says. This is I-music, whose first letter stands for "interactive, Internet, innovative - and intelligent," he says.
Officially, I-music will launch in February, but the Romeros' art exhibit is a sneak preview. It follows several other ideas Blum has realized: Web sites for Soundgarden (in use now, as the group tours); Web public relations for JAMPAC (Joint Artists and Music Promoters Action Committee) and a Net showcase he called "Rock in the Environment."
The latter also married fine art and rock personalities, something Blum says he learned from his days at Starwave. His job there included work with Britain's Peter Gabriel, one of pop music's cyber-pioneers. Blum worked on the resulting (and soon to be released) CD-ROM, "Eve," which incorporates work by four fine artists.
"Peter changed the way I saw computers," Blum says. "He really pushed me to work with visual art. I mean, I liked art; I collected Rauschenbergs. But I never made those qualitative demands of myself."
Gabriel also taught Blum to delegate. "He taught me how to realize what your strengths are. Then to surround yourself with really talented people. Rather than just try to dominate the game yourself."
A different slant
This, says Blum, is the keystone of I-music: maximizing resources within the community. These days, sophisticated Web pages come from students. Most artists - visual and musical - do digital work. And there are many attempts at "MTV on the Net" (from MTV itself to Microsoft's Music Central to magazine-format sites like Addicted To Noise). Most are reduced to "sampling" from print and each other.
Blum claims I-music will be different. "We'll offer interactive news and video," he says. "And we'll host events like the one tonight. In Seattle, we have great artists in all fields. And most of them have very progressive ideas. All I want to do is facilitate those."
------- ON VIEW -------
"Femme & Flora" and "The Extended Moment" can be seen from tomorrow through Sept. 30 at the Metropolis Gallery, 105 1/2 University St. Open noon to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. Roderick Romero will read from and sign copies of his book at 6 p.m. Sept. 16. The public's "private view" is also tonight, starting at 6 p.m. at the Speakeasy Internet Cafe, 2304 Second Ave. The virtual private view starts at the same time, on http://imusic.com; it will remain in place through Dec. 1.