The Modern Hotel's bar was crammed with artists last week. There were bowls of snack mix and sodas; greetings and heady laughs echoed off the room's sleek wood paneling. But this was just the pre-party. The real party is First Thursday, when The Modern will open 21 of its street-facing rooms as one-night galleries for the Modern Art Fair. From painting to performance art to dance, the boutique hotel will be crawling with creativity.
David Hale, Elizabeth Tullis and Michal Lloyd have been piecing together this event for some time now. Hale and Tullis opened The Modern in June 2007 after gutting and revamping the previous hotel. The Modern Hotel and the Linen Building have now become the cornerstones of the Linen District, Hale's prized redevelopment project on the fringe of downtown Boise. He has high hopes that the area will blossom into an artistic and cultural locale similar to Portland's Pearl District.
"It was an underdeveloped, underutilized area of town that I saw a lot of value in because of its location, because of the buildings that were here, and because of the existing businesses that were here," recalls Hale.
From its inception, The Modern has embraced creative types.
"We set up partnerships at The Modern before The Modern was built: True West Cinema Festival, Idaho Public Television, NPR and the Trey McIntyre Project," explains Tullis.
One look inside the hotel and it's apparent why artists are drawn to the space. The rooms are simply designed with brown pillowtop headboards, wool military blankets and earthy tones on the walls. The hotel bar is sleek and white-walled but has design flourishes like ceramic deer heads and a record player with a stack of 45s in each bathroom. The space is a blank canvas for the colorful people who dream inside.
"The Modern naturally attracts artists to it," says Lloyd, its manager. "Because of all of the design elements, lots of architects come and stay here and lots of designers are interested in the property itself."
To organize the Modern Art Fair, Hale, Tullis and Lloyd needed only to tap into their established artistic network. A few phone calls to J Crist Gallery, Stewart Gallery, and dance groups like Leap Troupe and the Troy McIntyre Project created a buzz. After a few people signed on, the artistic phone tree lit up and the event snowballed to include ,ore than 21 artists and performers.
"Each artist came in individually to look at the rooms and pick a space out," remembers Lloyd. "And they'd look, and they'd measure, and you'd leave them alone in the room. Everyone picked out a room that worked best for them, which turned out working well for us, as well."
A few artists, like Amy Westover, will be participating in two rooms during the event. Room 117 will be a collaboration with Karen Bubb and Annabel Armstrong that details their time spent apprenticing at a German glass studio. In addition to displaying Bubb's gold-leafed glass pieces, the two will transform the room's windows with stained glass appliques and the TV will play unedited footage from the trip. Westover's other room, 116, is a collaboration with artist Jennifer Wood on a project the two call The Deal. Wood and Westover have created a deck of cards that includes many of Boise's prominent artists, writers, musicians and galleries. They see themselves as the deck's Jokers and plan to set up their room as if they were traveling minstrels that just arrived in town. Westover hopes that the deck will unite Boise's current arts community by encouraging people to trade and collect the cards.
"The idea is to have a fun collaborative, community project that's trying to create a snapshot of Boise's arts and culture right now," says Westover.
Another artist showing work at the event is William Lewis, who has created a piece specifically for this show based on Manet's Olympia—a popular Art History 101 piece that depicts a young woman reclining nude on a daybed, looking assuredly at the viewer. Lewis took inspiration from the hotel environment and Manet's masterpiece to create a large reclining nude that will lay flat on the bed.
"I can't decide if it's an homage to that painting or almost a desecration of it," Lewis jokes. Some of the artists participating, like Charles Gill, currently have their work in other exhibitions. Gill's solo show, Effigies, is now on display at Stewart Gallery and includes large-scale paintings of a family of vintage dolls Gill has kookily named Buffy, Brenda, Buckhardt and Bucky Blanda. For The Modern show, Gill will be installing a collection of 10 still-life paintings he feels will be a great complement to The Modern's aesthetic:
"They're all very simple forms, but I think they'll go well with Dwayne Carver's architecture."
A few doors down, in room 239, interior designer Kerry Tullis and choreographer Amy O'Brien collaborate with actor Matthew Cameron Clark and photographer Andy Lawless. Tullis describes the performance as equal parts cake, tools, whipped cream and Reel Foods catch of the day. These artists hope to explore the concepts of voyeurism and imagination through the lens of the hotel experience.
"It's about getting glimpses of people going past a room and imagining what people are about or what they're into," explains Tullis.
But room 239 isn't the only room that will feature performers. Contemporary ballet company, the Trey McIntyre Project, will be performing at 7:15 p.m. in room 118. The internationally touring modern dance company recently moved its headquarters to Boise, and rather than sitting around waiting to go on tour, they're showing their new hometown what they've got. The Children's Dance Institute's Leap Troupe performs every half-hour starting at 6 p.m.
Meanwhile, a week before the show, artists gathered around the lounge tables and conversations meandered from how to display their work without putting holes in the walls to Sage Grouse mating dances. Kerry Tullis and Amy O'Brien cracked a couple of Hamm's and were already talking about next year's Modern Art Fair.
Thursday, May 1, 5:30 to 10 p.m. Modern Hotel, 1314 W. Grove St., 208-424-8244