Picture Perfect: An Evening of Living Art

With 40 Artists on Site, There Were a Lot of Moving Pieces to Manage at an Event Inspired by “Pageant of the Masters.”

We recently received one of our most interesting challenges yet, from AlliedPRA Northern California. One of their large corporate insurance clients was holding a week-long offsite with multiple activations in Monterey, California. The pièce de résistance: a high-end, formal dinner for 600 on the second-to-last night of their April stay. The client was inspired by the “Pageant of the Masters,” the crowning jewel of Laguna Beach’s annual Festival of Arts, featuring ninety minutes of “living picture” recreations of classical and contemporary works of art. Senior Account Executive Kate Swee and Production Manager Karen Waldmann set out to curate a customized “Evening of Living Art” that exceeded the client’s high expectations and grand vision.

Degas ballerinas (Photo Credit: Scott Campbell)

The event would take place at the Del Monte Aviation Hangar, with a one-hour cocktail reception outside, followed by a seated dinner. At the cocktail reception, guests would be greeted by eight Degas-inspired ballerina statues that would “come to life” throughout the reception. They would set the stage for what we dubbed the “Living Art Tableaus,” visualizations of classical paintings brought to life through custom-painted canvas backdrops, props, costumes, and live models.

Guests on the “live red carpet” (Photo Credit: Scott Campbell)

Kate immediately contacted one of our favorite body-painting artists who had created the 7 Deadly Sins for our MapAnything event in the fall. We knew that if anyone could envision what it would take to bring famous paintings to life, it was her. She was inspired by the unique concept and up for the challenge, even though she’d never produced something quite like this before. We set out to determine which famous paintings would make the cut. We knew they would have to be complex and visually-inspiring enough to WOW the guests, yet simple enough to execute in a month’s time. Our body-painting artists started a Pinterest board with initial recommendations, and after facilitating a back-and-forth brainstorm between them and the end client, we nailed down our six tableaus:

  • Boys in a Pasture, 1874, by Winslow Homer
  • The Singing Butler, 1992, by Jack Vettriano
  • A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte, 1886, by Georges Seurat
  • The Garden Wall, 1910, by John Singer Sargent
  • In the Mirror, 1890, by August Toulmouche
  • The Two Fridas, 1939, by Frida Kahlo

“The Two Fridas” Prep (Photo Credit: Scott Campbell)

“The Two Fridas” Tableau (Photo Credit: Scott Campbell)

Painting ourselves in a corner (almost)! Did we mention the planning of An Evening of Living Art started just five weeks out? Our all-day walk-through at the venue, where we met with the AV team and the furniture rental and framing companies, took place in pouring rain, which we deemed a sign of much-needed good luck. Over the next two weeks we all struggled with what turned out to be our biggest challenge, how to appropriately frame the tableaus. Each frame had to be thick enough to cover the height of the staging on the bottom and hide the beam holding the reveal curtain at the top. The opening had to be large enough to optimize the viewing of the painting, while not cutting off any detail of the canvas. Complicating matters, the hangar would be filled with 600 people, who would each be viewing the tableaus from a different angle. It required more math than any of us could have anticipated, but after some frantic emails with the Blueprint Studios fabrication team, who created 3D drawings, we were able to settle on the dimensions of the frames.

“In the Mirror” Tableau (Photo Credit: Scott Campbell)

Prepping for the big reveal: We started load-in the day before the event to set up all of the canvases. With 40 artists on site, there were a lot of moving pieces to manage! Installing the piping to hang the canvases and reveal curtains took longer than expected, but by about 9 PM most of the models had walked through and blocked their positions. That evening we realized that the two tableaus flanking the stage had been set unevenly and one was significantly closer to the stage than the other. We had to move the entire tableau over and reset the painting!

“Boys in a Pasture” Tableau (Photo Credit: Scott Campbell)

Painting by numbers: The day of the event ran more smoothly than we could ever have imagined. We had 23 individuals being body painted by 14 painters and assistants offsite at a hotel, and they were running early all day. The Degas ballerinas were bussed over to the venue first, and they got into position outside in the reception area. The tableau models came next, and they waited in the lobby of the aviation hangar for their big entrance. We revealed three sets of two tableaus at a time, about 30 minutes apart, throughout the evening. Karen was on the radio with AlliedPRA and the AV team to stay coordinated for the reveals. Karen and Kate would walk out with the two tableaus and get them set into place. Kate texted Karen when her painting was ready to go, and once Karen’s was as well, a message was relayed to the band’s MC, who made a brief explanation of the images, and the AV team, who pulled the curtain to reveal the painting.

“The Garden Wall” Tableau (Photo Credit: Scott Campbell)

“The Singing Butler” Tableau (Photo Credit: Scott Campbell)

Masterpiece theater: Our incredible artists and models literally brought these paintings to life at a level that blew us, and everyone else, away. We couldn’t have done it without the expertise of the talented painters and models who worked tirelessly (sometimes through the night) to deliver an exquisite product, truly showcasing the exemplary caliber of what we strive for in our large-scale custom activations.  The fabrications, sets, and costumes were magnificent, and the tableaus were awe-inspiring. Some of the guests even got visibly upset when the curtains closed. One guest, upon the reveal of The Singing Butler, exclaimed, “I have this framed above my bed!” And others were asking out loud, “Are those real people?” Between that and the high fives from our client, we couldn’t have painted a more picture-perfect reaction.

“A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte” Tableau