How a hush-hush event is blurring the line between fine art and wide-format printing.
By Joe Holt
It’s 7 o’clock. The first of October. The sun’s just set, leaving behind a purple-hued sky, barely visible between the high-rises that dot Chicago’s Near West Side. You’re seated in a luxury coach destined for a mysterious location. You don’t know the people around you or what to expect when you arrive at your destination, but you know you’re in for a good time. After all, you were lucky enough to score an invite to this super-secret, lavish birthday party thrown every few years.
Suddenly the bus lurches, turns, and you’re going up a slight incline. You look up and the sky overhead disappears, giving way to the interior of an enormous brick building with high, vaulted ceilings. You see other buses, hundreds of other guests wearing the same T-shirt as you – your ticket in. You step down, out onto the hard gray floor, and realize you’re in the right place. This is the party. Only, somehow, you’ve stepped into the 1930s.
Photo courtesy of Warren Brown.
Ahead, you’re greeted by an enormous, fully-stocked bar with a seamless 10 x 80-foot fabric backdrop featuring a visual cavalcade of hand-drawn characters printed in stunning blacks, whites, and grays. You turn and face wall after wall lined with dozens of large-format, art deco-inspired black-and-white photographs, some more than 8 feet wide and 10 feet high. Together, the printed pieces serve as a romantic reminder of the days of yore, when Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton walked the earth.
Suddenly, the band strikes up and Elton John begins to sing on the nearby stage. Yes, the Elton John.
Welcome to the pageantry, the spectacle, and the delight of Bill Bartolotta and his hand-picked artists.
Photo courtesy of ER2 Image Group.
Putting Art on Paper
For decades, Bartolotta has been meticulously planning every element of these types of events. The creative director is best known for creating fantastical, memorable, one-of-a-kind productions for a variety of local and national museums, private gatherings, TED Talks, and more.
“I want to focus on doing beautiful things,” he says. “Reaching people and connecting with them on a personal level, finding the beauty in the world around us – that’s what motivates me.”