Custom curved hardwalls by New York Tent create a blackout canvas for LED artistry.
by Sigrid Tornquist
Situated in the heart of Manhattan, N.Y., the Armory Show features innovative artist commissions and dynamic public programs—and for a March 2019 installation, a tented corridor played an integral part in the brilliant light-based display that immersed viewers who traversed the pathway in a starry cosmos.
The illuminated passageway Star Ceiling by artist Leo Villareal featured layered, nonrepeating light sequences. Presented by the Pace Gallery (also based in New York), the work of art relied on black vinyl to create a blackout interior space, designed and installed by New York Tent, Bohemia, N.Y.
“The client asked for a black tunnel that could be strong enough to hang 1,200 pounds of overhead projection screens,” says Steve Trebing, New York Tent’s founder and project lead for this installation. “The tent essentially created a covered outdoor exhibit, set between two sets of doors at Pier 92 of the show.”
Using blacktop tents with matching black walls, the crew installed the 10-by-190-foot structure, featuring three wedge turns, on top of a leveled floor system. Installers lined the structure, including the flat roof and walls, with fire-retardant stretched black fabric to provide a smooth, tunnel-like atmosphere.
Daylight seeping in proved to be one of the greatest installation challenges. “Even the smallest gap between the fabric could allow the strong sunlight to penetrate and ruin the visual element of the exhibit,” Trebing says. “We used black gaffer tape to conceal the seams of the vinyl and hide the sunlight. We also used an opaque black fabric on the inside as a second barrier and made custom boxes to surround the emergency exit equipment, which we covered with the same black fabric.”
Creating custom angles so the tent would curve was another challenge. “To make sure the turns were the correct size, we re-created the space in our warehouse with a mock installation and built the entire tent as a replica prior to the event to ensure the angles were correct and the tent fit properly,” Trebing says.
To accomplish the turns as the crew stretched the fabric from floor to ceiling, they fabricated wooden “batons” that connected the top of the tent to the floor. On-site, they stapled the fabric to the batons to get a wrinkle-free, taut tunnel.
Above and below
Because of underground utilities, the structure could not be staked into the ground. Consequently, the crew used nearly 20,000 pounds of concrete to anchor the tent and built custom black wooden covers for each of the concrete ballasts to stay consistent with the structure’s black interior and exterior.
New York City’s rigorous permitting process required New York Tent to both get approval from the Department of Buildings and acquire a TPA (temporary place of assembly) for the project. Each entity inspected the finished project, as did the New York City Fire Department. “But the biggest issue when working in New York City is the traffic,” Trebing says. “All trucks and staff need to allow ample time to get to the jobs—sometimes it can take 40 minutes to go one mile.”
No matter what part of the world an installation takes place, weather is a factor that must be taken into consideration, and this project was no exception—it snowed 6 inches the night before the installation. “The snow froze overnight, making it a challenge to clear the area and work,” Trebing says. “And when temperatures are below freezing, handling and installing the vinyl is a challenge. We needed to transport and keep the vinyl in a small van with the heat constantly running so that the vinyl would stay pliable and enable us to install it through the metal frame.”
Behind the scenes
While the installation took only 24 hours, the number of hours dedicated to the project from concept to completion totaled no less than 100 hours over four months and included the entire New York Tent team to complete. “For this project, as well as every project, there is a process that allows each department to put their stamp on it,” Trebing says.
“Our sales team begins the project and continues the development with a project manager until two weeks prior to the event. At that point our operations team takes it from there. The tent goes through a cleaning and inspection process and is earmarked for the job,” he continues. “Then our warehouse team loads the equipment needed. This is before our installation team shows up to create the magic. Let’s not forget that when [the tent] comes back to the shop dirty from the snow and weather, our cleaning team needs to wash and dry it before it gets packed away.”
Trebing sums it up in a way that any tent and event rental company can relate to: “It is truly a team effort and something that touches many hands from start to finish.”
By Sigrid Tornquist, a Minneapolis-based writer and editor, and a former InTents editor.