To celebrate the rise of the online video artist community, YouTube and the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation ventured into uncharted territory by launching an international search for innovative and compelling videos this past June called “YouTube Play. A Biennial of Creative Video.” On Thursday night, the art organization and online video platform (as well as partners HP and Intel) presented the results by broadcasting the audiovisual content onto the facade and interior of the Upper East Side institution.
“They share a real global vision with us, not only in getting creative art and video out to the world, but then also bringing it in. They were the perfect partner to begin with,” said YouTube senior marketing manager Ed Sanders about the Guggenheim. “In terms of a canvas, this is such an iconic building, and we were really excited about the potential of taking the videos inside and out and showcasing it further.” The presentation of YouTube Play, which marked another foray into events from the Google-owned subsidiary, also took place simultaneously at Guggenheim museums in Berlin, Bilbao, and Venice.
“The creative medium is something essential to YouTube, and to be able to celebrate that and do it through initiatives which everyone can participate in is really important,” said Sanders, adding that YouTube Play is one of many ways YouTube is exploring offline marketing. “One of the interesting ways we're approaching this is to have the projections on the exterior and them stream it out online. But it's important for people to touch this sort of stuff in the real world, as well. The core of YouTube will always be videos, but taking something that is virtual and manifesting it into physical space is something that I think we'll be doing more and more of.”
For Thursday's event, executive producer Salli Frattini—whose company, Sunset Lane Entertainment, produced YouTube's first-ever live-streamed event, “YouTube Live,” in 2008—worked alongside event designer Consortium Studios and Obscura Digital, which handled all interior and exterior projections. Frattini directed the event's flow so that 1,000 guests (not to mention countless passersby on Fifth Avenue) would receive a sensory rich experience that was digitized and democratized for all to see.
Although the conception, development, and execution of the event were eight months in the making, in reality Frattini and her team had less than 24 hours to bring the project to fruition. It was held on a Thursday to take advantage of the one day the museum is closed, and Sunset Lane Entertainment obtained access to the building at 6 p.m. on the eve of the event. “Working at the Guggenheim was incredibly challenging, due to the nature of the existing exhibition that we had to work around,” explained Frattini. “While the [YouTube Play's online] channel was launched June 14, we didn't know who the top 25 would be until the second week of September. So that really only gave us five weeks to produce profiles, produce the show, make all travel arrangements and content outreach, and finalize the event and production flow.”
As guests arrived at the Guggenheim, two 35,000-lumen projectors beamed the videos from the 25 finalists onto the striking facade. “The challenge of the exterior was architecturally mapping to the curved surface where each was a different size,” said Travis Threlkel, Obscura Digital's founder and creative director. “We wanted to showcase these artists' work in a completely unique, cool way, while still keeping the integrity of their work intact.” As the outdoor images were designed as a peek of what was to come on the inside, the producers crafted a more immersive environment within the museum. A state-of-the-art video projection system washed the surface of the Guggenheim's iconic spiral-banded rotunda with seamless video.
It was clear from the beginning that using 360-degree projections on the interior and exterior was the way to go. Consortium Studios principal Anton Goss designed the full concept of the room and the 55- by 16-foot “Hero Column” that served as the central projection screen, which alone took four hours to erect. “That led to a very complex design and engineering process because our staging supervisors had to come up with a plan to load it in, rig it, and, of course, load it out immediately after the show,” Frattini said.
The live-streamed event featured comedian and actor-director Michael Showalter as M.C. and included performances from artists such as Grammy-winning rock band OK Go; musician, producer, and video artist Kutiman; dance troupe LXD; singer-songwriter Megan Washington; and San Francisco's Mike Relm, best known for his audio and video mash-ups. A simple 16- by 24-foot uplit stage was chosen to maintain the simplicity of the room. All four floors of the Guggenheim were open for guests to walk through, with the uppermost floor serving as the viewing area for V.I.P.s.
Drinks and food, however, were only permitted on the main floor. Restaurant Associates set up three bars serving specialty drinks, including “Play-tinis” and Magic Hat beer, while waiters passed hors d'oeuvres like lobster bouchée with champagne sauce, truffle-scented polenta cake with sautéed wild mushrooms, mini Black Angus hamburgers and cheeseburgers, and spinach and provolone tartlets.