Modern Art Event 2010 

Growing Up Modern

A 3-year-old child is at an amazing place in her development. She's learning creative ways of expression, finding new ways to communicate, learning what works and what doesn't, what she can get away with and what won't fly. 2010 marks Modern Art's third birthday and, like a toddler, it, too, has faced a few growing pains and also taken confident steps forward.

Since 2008, artists have been handed the keys to Modern Hotel's rooms and given license to turn them into mini galleries. Spaces that usually hold visiting business people or relatives who don't want to sleep on a couch are transformed by paintings, drawings, pottery, neon, video, photographs, colors, shapes, and textures and opened to the public for one night. Event co-curators and artists Amy O'Brien and Kerry Tullis are kind of like Modern Art's adoptive parents. They took over the care and feeding of the event in 2009, using an artist's eye and a business-like approach to make Modern Art both modern and artful.

Though the idea for Modern Art stemmed from Portland, Ore.'s annual Affair at the Jupiter Hotel, it's the first of its kind in Boise. And as such, no one quite knew what to expect.

"The majority of people we talked to [after the first year], hadn't fully understood the amount of people who would come through," Tullis said. And, truthfully, neither did O'Brien and Tullis. "We thought it would be a few friends and family."

Instead, more than a thousand spectators inched down the hallways, squeezed into rooms and spread out across the parking lot blacktop.

Word got out again, because the following year, estimated attendance breached the 3,000-person mark. Bodies bottlenecked in stairwells, lines snaked down corridors and artists were pushed to the farthest corners of their individual galleries. To actually explore each room would have taken every minute of the four-hour event, and if you stopped to speak to an artist, visit with friends or wait in line at the beer tent, you probably left rooms unseen. By numbers alone, the event was successful, but Tullis doesn't think more is necessarily better.

"It was packed," O'Brien said.

"And a lot of people don't want to have that experience," Tullis added. "I think it might take a dip this year."

O'Brien thinks that's wishful thinking on Tullis' part. "She keeps saying that," O'Brien said, laughing. "She keeps saying, 'I think it's going to dip this year.'"

Much of the media coverage following last year's event focused on the number of people who attended, but it's not often we see that many Boiseans gathered in one spot unless it's a concert or the Western Idaho Fair. Tullis thinks those huge numbers might be what keeps some people away this year.

"If I was in a bigger city and I read that and that wasn't the only thing happening, I'd think twice about going," she said.

Local painter Kate Masterson participated in Modern Art the first two years, but that crush of people is, in part, why she chose not to participate this year. Like many of the artists showing, she spent all of her time in her own room and while she enjoyed talking to spectators, she missed out on a chance to be one herself.

"I was shocked at how many people were there," Masterson said. This year, instead of talking to viewers about her own large scale paintings, she'll join them as they take in the entire spectacle.

In 39 of the Modern's 40 rooms, the spectacle promises to be something to witness. Highlights this year include Amanda Hamilton and Ted Apel's collaboration exploring the history of the Soviet space shuttle Buran; an installation by neon artist Wil Kirkman; Zach Halbert's sculpture of copper and plastic based on "the simple idea of super-imposing musical notes on the ROYGBIV color spectrum"; landscape paintings by John Taye; and O'Brien and Tullis' parking lot tableau of furniture made from reclaimed wood. Less traditional spaces will also be filled. Seth Ogilvie plans to start an "art war" in the lobby bathrooms and the Art Barter room, in which artists and visitors can exchange art or services for art, will be open again this year.

In trying to keep the modern in Modern Art, as O'Brien and Tullis pored over the initial proposals, they kept an eye out for new and/or unknown artists and exciting work.

"Maybe half of the artists are new this year," Tullis said. "And variety was the key."

One new artist who saw the Modern Art exhibit as an opportunity not only to have his work seen, but also a chance to expand his own creativity is Boise High School senior Richie Marke.

A fashion photographer by trade--his work has been in a few overseas fashion magazines--he took on the task of photographing some of the Modern Art participating artists, whose portraits will be hung from the ceiling by strings in one of the hallways.

"I wanted to do something simple. I don't know if you know Hedi Slimane, but he has been doing a lot of work for Dior Homme," Marke said. "He's been doing simple black and whites that expose American youth. I kind of wanted to capture that."

But Marke has something completely different planned for his room. His new obsession is cut-out paper. He created a large piece for one of the windows in the Egyptian Theatre to get people excited and talking about Modern Art. A large, lacy skull cut-out was an homage to yet another of Marke's icons, fashion designer Alexander McQueen.

"[McQueen] died this year, and that hit me pretty hard actually," Marke said. "I wanted to create something that would kind of give back to him. He does a lot of gloom and doom. At the bottom of that piece was a heart with a cameo in it. That was his silhouette." Though that piece is no longer in the window, Marke's other fashion influences as well as statements on pop culture, glamour and consumerism will be reflected in his intricate paper creations.

With the next generation of emerging Boise artists on board, Modern Art will undoubtedly grow. It might be time for the Modern Hotel to consider expanding as well.

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