Napa’s largest, most visible art gallery will again open after dark – on the city’s streets.
For the second time, banks of projectors and video equipment are transforming downtown buildings into giant outdoor canvases during the Napa Lighted Art Festival, which will run nightly through Jan. 20. More than a dozen locations are being transformed into an open-air exhibit showcasing the work of visual artists across the U.S. and abroad, from Oakland and New Orleans to as far afield as the United Kingdom and Italy.
During the festival’s four-hour opening night on Saturday, spectators flocked to more than a dozen exhibits to absorb the artists’ shapeshifting visions – from the astral circles and satellite images of “Horizon” at the historic Goodman Library to the interlocking rectangles that, cast onto the Napa Valley Opera House façade, transformed the Main Street landmark into a pulsating image of modern art.
Despite of forecast of steady Napa Valley rainfall for several days to come, the sky remained dry on opening night as groups of visitors strolled among downtown displays from the Historic Napa Mill to First Presbyterian Church, and points in between.
“I just think it’s great to see so many people out here tonight – hopefully it doesn’t rain too much this week) so more people can enjoy it,” said Jessica Penman of Yountville while she and a dozen others lingered in front of Napa Square, where a soundtrack of chimes playing over a bass line of free-floating tempo accompanied a wash of electric colors and squares atop the School Street building.
As she and others continued taking in the light projections, one or two spectators improvised a few dance steps on the sidewalk – their moves triggering more sounds and images from “Sound Bank,” designed by its creator David Sullivan to interact with viewers’ motions.
The return of the Lighted Art Festival, which debuted in December 2017, marked an increased ambition from organizers, who are expanding the number of displays while fostering a multimedia experience with soundtracks as inventive as their accompanying visuals.
In addition to increasing the number of exhibits from the original festival, the city’s Parks and Recreation Department and Tourism Improvement District are adding events such as symposiums on art, light and technology, as well as Napa’s first Lantern Parade at 6:30 p.m. Friday at Veterans Memorial Park.
As spectators within the CIA at Copia amphitheater peered up Saturday at Luke Jerram’s “Museum of the Moon” – a glowing 1-to-500,000 likeness of the Earth’s companion orb – the gentle strains of Claude Debussy’s “Clair de lune” played in the clear night air. To the west, a much more abstract soundtrack greeted those gathered near the Opera House, where the Italian team known as mammasONica was projecting the sharply geometric “Kinote.”
The combination of light and sound at the Opera House – and their blending with the Main Street building’s horizontal and vertical lines – form “a cinematic abstraction, a brief history of abstract art and movement (that) leads to contemporary patterns,” said mammasONica art director Luca Pulvirenti, who traveled from the Sicilian city of Catania for the Napa festival’s opening.
Farther from downtown, another festival installation soothed onlookers with orchestral pieces of Tchaikovsky, while holding their attention with a flashing, swirling display inspired by the artist’s earlier work at a place far removed in distance and style from Napa: the Burning Man festival.
On the lawn of The Village at Vista Collina in south Napa, spectators laid blankets and pillows beneath a star-shaped canopy 26 feet across. Reclining like stargazers, they let their eyes follow the hundreds of LEDs above them as they formed waves, starbursts, pink butterflies and blue jellyfish, unfolding and vanishing to the notes of “The Nutcracker” or “Eine kleine Nachtmusik.”
The experience of watching “Constellation” moved one older woman to such emotion that she sought out its creator, Christopher Schardt of Oakland, and embraced him. “Thank you; it’s a religious experience,” she whispered.
Afterward, Schardt recalled his earlier attempt at light-driven artwork before the 2015 Burning Man in northwest Nevada, when his father convinced him to pivot away from purely abstract imagery and create an experience to touch viewers’ hearts – an experience that at the Napa festival also includes images from the Hubble telescope.
“Dad said, ‘You have an opportunity to show something of sheer beauty,’ he recalled of “Firmament,” which was designed similarly to his Napa piece but was twice as large. “Now it was, “Let’s make an immersive environment that ‘s beautiful, that people can enjoy.
“Music ended up becoming the magic bullet here; the music makes this tons more powerful,” said Schardt. “I get reactions across the whole spectrum from ‘That’s cool’ to “Oh my God, it’s an epiphany!’”
The growth of the Lighted Art Festival in its size and scope was something the London artist Karen Monid said she foresaw in 2017, when she Ross Ashton presented “Line” at the Riverfront building. Speaking at a festival preview event on Friday inside the Goodman Library – where she and Ashton are displaying “Horizon” – Monid predicted that interest in the visual extravaganza will continue to mount.
“We really felt something and we told (organizers) this could be something really big, for the city and for the Napa Valley, because the feeling is right and the town is right,” she said.