Weekender: This Weekend's Top Five Events


Hey! Have a great weekend!

MADE 1-Year Anniversary and Holiday Party
From the Lunchbox Museum in Georgia to the International Museum of Toilets in New Delhi, there is some wacky reverence being paid in the cultural institutions of the world. But the Museum of Art and Digital Entertainment — essentially a museum for video games — strives for more than just niche status: It's got an ambitious fifteen-year plan to become the SFMOMA of digital arts. In the meantime, the museum will celebrate its one-year birthday with a joint anniversary and holiday party on Saturday, Dec. 22. That means all-you-can-drink Guinness, pizza, special holiday video games, and a preview of the MADE's new exhibit, "Games You Can Frame," focusing on visual artistry in video games. And, as per their mantra, all games are meant for playing. 6 p.m. to midnight, $30 or two for $50. 510-788-5702 or TheMADE.orgAzeen Ghorayshi

Before California
Artist-naturalist Laura Cunningham works primarily as a scientific illustrator, rendering fossils for paleontology publications by the likes of UC Berkeley and the Smithsonian Institution. Her background comes through loud and clear in her first ever solo exhibition, Before California, which reads like a terrifically illustrated textbook about the effect of human activity on local wildlife. Cunningham captions paintings of condors and wolves with text explaining the nature of the species' endangerment, and draws East Bay flora along with an illustrated calendar of wildflower bloom times. The wall texts are replete with Latin nomenclature. The exhibition meanders into the domain of art with a series of imaginative works juxtaposing photographs of Bay Area locales with painted renderings of how the places might have looked five hundred years back, before the touch of civilization. Some of the comparisons come off as judgmental, contrasting unsightly concrete constructions against what used to be pristine vistas. Others, however, simply delight in the rendering of alternate realities, and all the future possibilities entailed therein. Before California runs through January 30 at the David Brower Center (2150 Allston Way, Berkeley). 510-809-0900 or BrowerCenter.org — Alex Bigman

WONDER: 2012 Artists Annual
In an art climate heavily defined by the reign of the curator, an exhibition such as Wonder, Berkeley Art Center's annual open call, truly is a relaxing experience. Visitors, relieved of that grasping expression which has become synonymous with art viewing, meander casually amidst the show's 204 works, which are hung salon-style. Of course, there is a trade-off with a non-juried exhibition of this size: Pieces that otherwise might have shone are bound to become lost in the pile. Well, so it goes. Take in what you can and zero in when something calls to you. Here's some of what I liked: Bonnie Neumann's stitch-like depiction of the water's surface in "Crosscurrents #13"; Mili Rosenblatt's austere black-and-white photograph "Lunching with De Staebler"; Nell Haskell's romantic "Self Portrait"; and Jenny Bloomfield's evocative abstraction of the I-5 freeway. Wonder runs through January 27 at Berkeley Art Center. 510-644-6893 or BerkeleyArtCenter.orgAlex Bigman

Black X-Mass
It's a yearly tradition, now in its fifteenth year: Black X-Mass, the annual anti-Christmas show presented by Karla LaVey's First Satanic Church. Just to be clear: "Members of the First Satanic Church DO NOT sacrifice animals, worship the devil, participate in orgies, molest children or infringe on the rights of others," according to the Church's website. However, that doesn't mean the occasional bible won't get burned onstage. Mostly though, Black X-Mass is a place for the dark at heart to watch some bands, eat some food, and party together — in darkness. This year's lineup includes Metro Mictlan, The Death Medicine Band, Theremin Wizard Barney, SkozeyFetisch, and Amphibious Gestures — bands whose emitted sounds are as bizarre as their names suggest. At the Elbo Room on Tuesday, Dec. 25. 9:30 p.m., $10. Elbo.comKathleen Richards


Vientian Cafe
File this one under “worth a detour”: Vientian Cafe, a Laotian restaurant situated on a completely residential stretch of East Oakland, turns out to be one of best places around for down-home Lao food. The restaurant offers a broad range of Southeast Asian cuisines, but the key to a stellar meal is to ask for the separate “Lao Specialties” menu, where almost every item costs $5 or less, without a clunker among them. Highlights include the best nam kao (crispy rice ball salad) in town, the super-crunchy baked sai oo (fermented sausage), and the mok pa — chunks of catfish that are covered in aromatics, then steamed inside a banana leaf until the whole thing coheres together like a terrine: tender, succulent, and incredibly fragrant. Round out your meal with an order of sticky rice, the staple of Lao cuisine. —Luke Tsai