Maybe it was the glint of the gold fringe curtains or the wafting smell of peanut butter banana wedding cake that drew you into Room 116 at last year's Modern Art event. Or perhaps it was the swagger-voiced echo of an Elvis impersonator encouraging grinning couples to repeat after him: "I've been waiting just for tonight / To do some lovin' and to hold you tight / So kiss me quick and love me tender / cause I can't help falling in love with you." But once you pushed pass the throngs at the Modern Hotel and into the Five Hour Church of Elvis, the scene was unforgettable.
"They had bridal veils for us to choose from, big gaudy rings we could use, big gaudy Elvis glasses--some of them with sideburns attached--bouquets we could choose from," remembered Church of Elvis bride April Hoff.
Hoff stumbled upon the Elvis-themed, performance-art wedding chapel with her "beau" at last year's Modern Art event and proposed on the spot. The couple now lives in Oregon with their Church of Elvis marriage certificate proudly displayed on the wall.
"It was one of the happiest times I've ever had, because I love any time I can get interactive with art," said Hoff.
The Five Hour Church of Elvis was one of dozens of art installations last year at the Modern Hotel's annual Modern Art event, which invites area artists to creatively display their work in the hotel's retro, mid-century modern rooms.
Now in its fourth year, Modern Art has grown into one of the most anticipated and highly attended art events of the year, drawing thousands down to the Linen District every First Thursday in May.
For Modern Art curators Kerry Tullis and Amy O'Brien, this year represents a changing of the guard, so to speak. A number of artists who have participated in previous years--Amy Westover, Jennifer Wood, Bill Lewis, Kirsten Furlong--have stepped aside and allowed a new creative crop to come forth. This year, more that 80 artists will show work in 38 rooms, including Ben Love, who is curating a printmaking exhibit in Room 221 titled Janet Jackson's Intergalactic Minetic Soul Shake-down; illustrator Noble Hardesty, who will display his Test Tube Kitty line in Room 107; and Anna Ura, who will showcase her blurred photographic oil paintings in Room 241.
"A lot of the artists wanted to see [the event] this year ... When you participate, you are trapped in your room, but it's a great entrapment because you get to contact so many people," said O'Brien.
That increased level of exposure and direct contact is exactly what compelled lighting designer Marie Mortensen to submit a proposal this year.
"It's just the most exciting art show that there is in Boise. You can't go anywhere else and meet and talk to that many people at one time ... It just has really great energy," said Mortensen.
Mortensen, who crafts funky chandeliers and custom lighting installations, plans to overhaul Room 224 using conduit and fabric. She's also participating in the inaugural Boise Weekly Art Barter Room, which will provide an off-track-betting-themed space where people can barter their services for art.
"How this barter system works is kind of like betting in a way because you're not sure if the artist is going to accept it or not," explained Leila Ramella-Rader, BW art director. "The patrons will come in and if they like somebody's art and they don't have money, they'll fill out these cards and put the idea of what they want to barter, but it's really up to the artists in the end."
The Boise Weekly Barter Room will also act as an informal gallery, allowing attendees to browse pieces--like Bryan Moore's drippy, Lucha Libre-esque canvas piece, Tomas Montano's swirling wood painting that looks like Darth Vader drawn in white henna, and Adrian Kershaw's giclee on canvas print of a colorfully dotted turtle--and make notes on which rooms to check out.
Though Tullis and O'Brien know that most Modern Art attendees zigzag randomly throughout the hotel, they do curate the rooms to be seen in a specific order--starting at Room 101 and proceeding up to Room 221.
"From our viewpoint, it's set up in a way to see room to room to room to room ...What we end up doing as organizers is really thinking about placement of artists and their work next to the person that's next to them," said Tullis.
In Room 226, for example, Norwegian-born Canadian artist Pal Gusdal Jomas will tuck people into a bed screen-printed with "reflections of Americana and American road travel," while across the hall in Room 227, the Boise Open Studios Collective Organization kicks off its 30-piece art scavenger hunt with photographic and text clues.
"We're going to stash the pieces somewhere around Boise. We're trying to keep it somewhere in the downtown area, but ... if some artist wants to put it in their community, their neighborhood, they're definitely going to do that," said BOSCO vice president Eric Obendorf. "Basically, we're giving away free art."
Though Tullis and O'Brien have a cursory idea of what each artist will be doing in their room, the evening always brings an array of unplanned artistic surprises.
"What's nice is we only know so much as well, so it's all really new and fresh when it happens ... It seems totally spontaneous," said Tullis.