Temporarily Modern Art 

Sixth Annual event unleashes surreal whirlwind at Modern Hotel

For one night each year, artists replace vacationing families and business folk inside the Modern Hotel's minimalist rooms. Each briefly transforms his or her space, beckoning thousands of wandering observers to confront a hotel room stripped of its familiar bed-TV-lamp-chair-desk composition and witness temporary performance art like the Five Hour Church of Elvis.

But the following morning, Modern Art vanishes almost as quickly as it appeared.

Amy O'Brien and Kerry Tullis, who curate and organize the event, spend four months each year preparing for this single, hectic evening.

"There's nothing more temporary than this event," said O'Brien.

"There's so much that's unexpected and spontaneous," added Tullis.

The scene is also surreal the following day, as guests check into rooms that, the night before, held massive mixed-media installations.

"All of a sudden, people, strangers, are checking in again, and it's almost as if it had never happened," said O'Brien.

This year, more than 60 artists--including Troy Passey in Room 225, Erika Sather-Smith in Room 108 and Noble Hardesty in Room 239--will transform the hotel's 33 rooms during the sixth annual Modern Art, open to First Thursday-goers from 5-10 p.m. Thursday, May 2.

Karyn Hatton's "urban hedgerow" concept, comprised of bamboo and cut grasses, will span the perimeter of the hotel's courtyard, while Black Hunger artists Eli Craven, Maria Chavez and Elijah Jensen-Lindsey will display a collaborative video project examining the physics of falling in the Modern's Business Center and balcony.

Down below, in the courtyard space, David Herbold and Lauren McCleary-Herbold of Moscow will install three sculptures inspired by John Trudell, Jane Goodall and Neil Young. Taking part in his second Modern Art, Herbold said the experience is far different from a traditional art opening.

"Aesthetically, it was like other work that I've done," he said. "But I definitely acknowledged the fact that I'm working with a hotel room, and not a gallery space. It's this transient space where all these experiences have happened there with much more variety than any room in your house."

The Modern Art concept was a seed planted after Tullis and her husband visited a similar event called The Affair, held annually at the Jupiter Hotel in Portland, Ore. Like Modern Art, The Affair transformed the hotel into a series of open air, miniature galleries.

"Most hotels limit themselves because they think within the box--and the box, of course, being the guest room. It's for sleeping. Every room is a canvas, and every room has potential. It's a great use of space," said Al Munguia, Jupiter general manager.

But unlike The Affair, which invited galleries to occupy the rooms, Modern Art was created with the intention of highlighting individual members of the local arts scene. The event has taken on a more collaborative, interactive form in part because the artists create the rooms themselves.

"There just aren't that many galleries to take over the rooms anyway, even if we wanted it to be that way," said Tullis. "The idea that there are only a handful of galleries--that's what played into the concept of Modern Art here. It doesn't mean that there aren't a lot of great artists and art to be seen."

Meanwhile, the concept, tailored to fit the Boise model, continues to endure--and has even expanded. Modern Art now spills across the street to complementary events, including a Boise Bicycle Project showcase and live music at the Linen Building.

Amanda Johnson, assistant professor at Boise State University's Department of Community and Regional Planning, believes the growing success of Modern Art is part of a larger trend: the "pop-up cities" phenomenon.

"[It] is, I think, a prime example about how you transform space for a different use than what that building might originally be used for," Johnson said. "I think there's something really powerful about that."

According to Johnson, visitors foster a stronger sense of community and local identity through temporary art installations that take place outside of the traditional gallery context.

"Part of that is using public space, not necessarily in facilities where you have to pay to get into them," Johnson said. "That, I think, is the real power of temporary art--this notion of reinvention through art and culture and identity--it's an incredibly powerful way to express the intention, or the vision, or the message to a large group of people."

But just how long Modern Art will endure--at least with its two organizers at the helm--Tullis and O'Brien can't say.

"I think every year the Modern itself goes, 'Oh, I don't know. It's a big event,'" said Tullis. "But part of it, too, is the idea that it is just that night, and the temporariness. There's a lot of work that goes on behind the scenes for that five-hour event, and then a lot of work that goes into getting the hotel up and running again for the next night," said Tullis.

After six years, O'Brien and Tullis still see the value in Modern Art. They contend that it allows artists to try something new and "take a risk" with their work in a way that gallery openings and other events don't.

"It's a risk because it's seen by a lot of people, but it's not that big of a risk, because it's for five hours," said Tullis. "I think it just totally unleashes some people."

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