Modern Art gears up for its last go-round

Rachel Reichert served up tea in “The Garden of Mr. Beaver and Eleanor” a performance installation in the Modern’s patio during Modern Art in 2010.
Rachel Reichert served up tea in “The Garden of Mr. Beaver and Eleanor” a performance installation in the Modern’s patio during Modern Art in 2010. Idaho Statesman file

Fur Food, Five Hour Church of Elvis, flash mobs, Trey McIntyre Project’s Fun House, a “Nest” of dancing human birds and “The Bed-In for Peace” (a re-enactment of John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s honeymoon) — these are just a few of the memorable Modern Art moments that have happened over the past eight years of this quirky, fun event.

But this First Thursday, May 5 — the ninth Modern Art — will mark the end of this avant-garde tradition. The Modern’s Elizabeth Tullis, who started the event, has decided that it’s time to move on. Each year, it has become more difficult to justify the hours of event preparation and recovery and closing the hotel for the night.

Things were different in 2008. The Boise economy was sluggish — especially for artists — and the hotel wasn’t fully booked, so Tullis decided to let a few of her artist friends book rooms at a discount and use them for something creative. It was magical and nearly 1,000 people came that first year.

“We thought just a few friends and the fringe crowd would show up,” says Kerry Tullis, Elizabeth’s sister-in-law who participated as an artist that first year and co-curated Modern Art since. “Afterward, we were like, this is obviously filling a need, so maybe we should actually organize it.”

Modern Art took on a synergy of its own and quickly became one of the city’s most popular annual arts events. Each year, it drew several thousands to the boutique hotel and its surrounding blocks for a growing number of satellite events.

This year should be just as fun — as well as a bit bittersweet. Several artists will pay homage to the event in their rooms. Photographer Brooke Burton will offer a retrospective of the past eight years as well as a fun, interactive way to commemorate the finalé. Josie Fretwell, Anne Padilla and Karen Bubb will celebrate Beltane (a rite of spring) in a room that is filled with fabrics, mementos and more from past Modern Arts. And there will be many surprises from artists such as Noble Hardesty, Project Ixuza, Wil Kirkman and Bryan Moore.

Modern Art was a turning point for the Treasure Valley’s arts community, says Bubb, who is the city of Boise’s public arts manager and who has participated several times.

“It changed our perception of art as being a passive experience to something that is very interactive and that crosses boundaries of visual art and dance, performance and ‘happenings,’” Bubb says. “That was a new thing for Boise.”

It also redefined what an arts venue can be, Bubb says.

“Boise has a dearth of venues,” she says. “Two spaces have come about recently — Surel’s Place and Ming Studios — that are multidisciplinary, and that’s a good omen. We need more, and more people like Elizabeth, who are willing to invest in our collective, creativity.”

Modern Art also offered an opportunity for artists to get out of their comfort zones, says artist Troy Passey, who has participated every year in a variety of collaborations.

“I did things I never would have done,” Passey says. “I’m kind of an introvert, so it was an important place for me to push myself. It is the art event of the year. More people are exposed to art on that one night than any other time of the year. It’s a true spectacle, in the best sense of the word. It will leave a void.”

This won’t be the end of art and culture at the Modern, Kerry Tullis assures. The hotel will continue to produce events such as Campfire Stories, a regional literary forum, and the Modern Art infinite scroll, an installation that runs down the outside of a stairwell near the front entrance.

“It will be a yearly contest,” Tullis says. “The Modern will run a call to artists and select an artist to have his or her concept on the scroll for the year. We’ll unveil it on the First Thursday in May.”

This year, multimedia artist Tomas Montaño will be on the scroll.

Modern Art

5-10 p.m. Thursday, May 5, The Modern Hotel & Bar, 1314 W. Grove St., Boise. Free.