Legs to Stand On The black lacquer stand inlaid with mother-of-pearl, on exhibit in "Essence of Style: Chinese Furniture of the Late Ming and Early Qing Dynasties," is one of many 16th- to 18th-century pieces deviating from the form-follows-function rule; here, form and function are as seamlessly linked as the furniture itself, which is held together with interlocking joinery that is both essentially invisible and practically indestructible. Beds, cabinets, tables, chairs, and other pieces made from tropical huanghuali and zitan hardwoods and lacquered softwoods show a striking economy of design and ingenious craftsmanship, offering very early examples of folding and collapsible home furnishings. A Ming sloping-stile, wood-hinged lacquer cabinet inlaid with mother-of-pearl, stone, and glass and a Ming rosewood painting table are among the main attractions of the exhibit, which will further illuminate the history of Chinese architecture and design with a resource room containing computer and video displays on typical courtyards in Chinese housing complexes and traditional architectural features in Chinese homes over the years. The exhibit opens at 9:30 a.m. (and runs through Sept. 6) at the Asian Art Museum, Golden Gate Park, S.F. Admission is free-$7; call 379-8801.
You Bet Your Life Artist Steven Raspa adds his two cents to the gambling debate with "A Dollar and a Dream," his multimedia installation linking long shots like prayer and the American Dream with games of chance. For the last three years, Raspa has been collecting Lotto forms and scratch-off games he's found in cities across our country and others; the stubs take their place within a jumbled assemblage of fortune cookies and dice, horseshoes and wishbones, tarot cards and rabbits' feet, American flags and those praying-hands plaques one sometimes finds hanging in the homes of elderly ladies or on the basement walls of community churches. (Raspa got his at secondhand stores and flea markets, and it appears that no old ladies were harmed in the making of this piece.) There, amid the clutter and the sculpture and the sound installation Raspa has cobbled together, gallerygoers are invited to consider their own crazy dreams and deepest desires. The show opens at 6 p.m. with a reception (and runs through Feb. 2) at the Crucible Steel Gallery, 2050 Bryant (at 20th Street), S.F. Admission is free; call 648-7562.
And Then I Said ... The day after New Year's Day, cabaret singer Sharon McKnight, "sexpert" Fairy Butch, and comedian Julia Jackson discussed holiday hangovers. Later in the month, Supervisor Gavin Newsom, drag psychics Tara and Chrystallah, and comedian Marilyn Pittman hashed out "The Worst of San Francisco." Now, as Late Night Live With David Mills and Bridget Schwartz resumes its weekly Friday night convergence, playwright Doug Holsclaw, "Trannyshack" hostess Heklina, and former supe-turned-scribe Angela Alioto share on-the-job stories during tonight's show, themed "Workers of the World Unite!" It's sort of like those "If you could have a dinner party with a bunch of famous dead people" situations, except with less famous live people and no dinner. Still, seeing how Angela's and Heklina's stories compare ought to be worth it, if only for one memorable local quote. The show begins at 10 p.m. at Josie's Cabaret & Juice Joint, 3583 16th St. (at Market), S.F. Admission is $8; call 861-7933.
There's Gold in Them Thar Halls Slavery, genocide, and environmental destruction notwithstanding, the California gold rush is significant state history, and the Oakland Museum's sesquicentennial exhibit "Gold Rush! California's Untold Stories" helps tell its tale. Sure, there are theme-park elements to this show -- museumgoers can mine for gold and take their findings to a make-believe assay office to be evaluated as fool's gold or the real thing -- but the museum is also sponsoring a lecture series that sifts though the effects and aftereffects of the prospecting boom with panel discussions like "Statehood, Urban Expansion, Vigilance, Racial, and Economic Conflict: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly" (Jan. 25) and "The California Environment: Before and After the Gold Rush" (April 5). The exhibit is split into three parts: the collection of artifacts, artwork, and daguerreotypes of "Gold Fever: The Lure and Legacy of the California Gold Rush"; the period's paintings, watercolors, and drawings in "Art of the Gold Rush"; and the early daguerreotypes and ambrotypes of miners, their plots, and their co-workers and kin in "Silver and Gold: Cased Images of the California Gold Rush." The exhibit opens at 10 a.m. (and runs through July 26) at the Oakland Museum, 1000 Oak (at 10th Street), Oakland. Admission is free-$8; call (888) OAK-MUSE.
Swing Out for Sisters Cocktail Nation pairs off with the California Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League at "Swing for Choice," a swing band double-header benefiting CARAL's lobbying efforts. Broadway Studios in-house instructors Rob and Diane, who make a persuasive argument for the toning effects of swing, will don their little microphone headsets and guide even the most two-left-footed of beginners through an hourlong lesson, followed by live sets from Steve Lucky & the Rhumba Bums and Lavay Smith & Her Red Hot Skillet Lickers. Between bands, jitterbugging Jacks and Jills get to show off a little in a ladies' choice swing dance contest. Doors open at 7 p.m., lessons begin at 7:30 p.m., and music begins at 8:30 p.m. at the DNA Lounge, 375 11th St. (at Harrison), S.F. Admission is $15; call 546-7211.