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Chicago To Steal Dubai's Title As Home Of World's Largest Digital Art Show

CHICAGO (CBS)—Chicago will gain exposure this weekend with the new designation as the home to the world's largest permanent digital art installation.

The display, "Art on theMART," will transform the Merchandise Mart's sprawling beige façade overlooking Wacker Drive at the Riverwalk into a vibrant display of colors with longevity that will span decades.

About 10,000 people are expected to fill Wacker drive Saturday night when it closes to traffic between Wells and Orleans streets starting at 6:30 p.m.

The crowd will witness a historic moment in Chicago's art scene.

Art on theMART

Described by Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel as the world's largest digital art show during a sneak peek held on the River Walk Wednesday night, Art on theMART will light up the 2.5 acre span of the south side of the Merchandise Mart--for the next 30 years.

The colors will shine for two hours a night, five days a week, during 10 months out of the year—March through December.

"With this light show, Chicago will add another dimension to its public art in a way that not only our city, but other cities in the world don't contribute," Emanuel said. "We'll be adding a whole new dimension of public art here in Chicago and I think other cities will start to follow the city's lead."

The dazzling behemoth of an art display comes to town at no cost to the city. The privately-funded $8 million project was fully paid for by the Merchandise Mart (now known under the new name theMart), according to Cynthia Noble, executive director of Art on theMART.

The Chicago City Council in April approved a 30-year contract with Vornado Realty, the company that owns theMart, to use the building as a digital art canvas through the year 2048, Noble said.

The project will officially come to life Saturday night via a complex system of 34 projectors encased in glass on the Riverwalk across from theMART.

The projectors will bounce 1.2 million lumens of light across the river and onto the monstrous building to turn it into the brilliantly-lit color show that will become a central part of the Chicago River.

"For years the Chicago River was known as a blemish on the city," Emanuel said during the sneak peak this week. "Today we're going to shine it bright."

To turn the building into a giant shining art canvas, each digital projector emits 30,000 lumens of light, according to Will Chase of San Francisco-based Obscura Digital, the creative agency that engineered the project alongside Chicago architecture firm Valerio Dewalt Train Associates.

Merch Art 3
Will Chase of Obscura Digital explains how light is projected onto the Merchandise Mart for Art on theMART.

To put that much light into perspective, an average flashlight emits between 50 to 100 lumens, Chase said.

"This is a big, big flashlight that's throwing a lot of light onto the wall, and we're doing that to create a beautiful artistic canvas out of theMart building," Chase said on Friday. "This is the largest permanent projection system in the world, and the housing is specially designed to fit into the Riverwalk and also withstand the rigors of Chicago winters."

Obscura Digital has spearheaded large-scale digital art displays for the Vatican, the Sydney Opera House and New York City's Empire State building and the Guggenheim Museum, Chase said.

Dubai's InterContinental currently holds the title as the home to the world's largest digital public art display, according to Obscura Digital, but that will change Saturday night when Art on theMart illuminates River North's most famous building.

The public installation launches Sept. 29 with a 35-minute-long video program that will culminate in a pyrotechnic show.

Four contemporary digital artworks from commissioned artists will kick-off the show, and other artists will be able to apply to have their art featured in the future, Noble said.

Chicago artist Jan Tichy's "Artes In Horto," or "Seven Commissions In Chicago," questions the place of nature in urban environments. Tichy uses works from seven historical urban artists as inspiration, pulling out images related to nature. Those images will slowly populate the canvas of Art on theMART.

"I thought about the place of nature in Chicago," Tichy said. "Chicago is very unique in the sense of how nature and the Chicago landscape come together."


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