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Choose your own adventure at BMoA's Art After Dark

Each year, the Bakersfield Museum of Art concludes its season of Art After Dark with a surrealist masquerade. This week’s event is even more surreal thanks to the screening of “Steven Arnold: Heavenly Bodies” about the multimedia artist who was also a protege of Salvador Dali.

Fitting with that theme, curator Rachel McCullah Wainwright said the evening is rife with options including the documentary screening, art on display, immersive photo booth, masquerade with two DJs and cocktails by Tiki-Ko.

"People can choose their own adventure," she said. "If they want to see the film, that's an hour and a half, then they can transition into the garden (for the masquerade). If they are just interested in seeing the film, they can do that portion and go off into the night. Those who want to just get dressed up and go out can come to the masquerade."

Like most of the museum's programming, this has been in the works for some time. When planning the current exhibition, "On the Edge: Los Angeles Art, 1970s-1990s, from the Joan and Jack Quinn Family Collection," Wainwright knew Steven Arnold's work would provide a fresh way to present the annual masquerade.

"I was excited to have an artist on display that we could explore more. It’s a natural connection that we made."

Arnold was a multidisciplinary artist who embraced the beauty of transformation through his paintings, illustrations, films, photos, sets, costumes and assemblages.

While attending the San Francisco Art Institute, he rented out the Palace Theatre to screen his final student film, "Messages, Messages," in 1968. Based on the success of the evening, which also featured screenings of early surrealist films by Man Ray and Melies as well as old French animations, the theater owner invited Arnold to continue these weekly midnight movie showcases, which became known as Nocturnal Dream Shows. These events evolved into a mix of films and live performances. 

Arnold drew the attention of Dali with his 1972 film "Luminous Procuress" in New York. 

"Dali was so impressed by the film that he invited Steven to Spain for the summer of 1974 to assist him in the embellishment and inauguration of his museum (Teatro Museo Dali)," Vishnu Dass, "Heavenly Bodies" filmmaker, wrote in an email.

While there Arnold created collages with artist and singer Amanda Lear, a shrine room with fashion designer Kaisik Wong, and assisted with the various other assemblages around the museum.

"Steven had long-standing interest in Jungian psychology and dream realities, which I’m sure were nurtured and expanded during his time with Dali," Dass wrote. "Steven also observed in Dali an artist whose creativity touched every part of his life. This is something that Steven certainly took to heart."

Dass is the director of The Steven Arnold Museum and Archives who stepped into the role of filmmaker after inheriting the project from Stephanie Farago, Arnold's longtime friend and champion who died from lung cancer in 2014.

"We had been working together for over five years, and I promised her upon her passing that I would complete the film and do everything I could to make sure Steven wasn’t forgotten. After Stephanie's passing, Joan (Quinn) came on board as a producer and helped with the connections necessary to complete the project."

Quinn has long been a passionate proponent of the arts and artists, with many of whom she has had decades-long friendships. 

In the current BMoA exhibition, three of Arnold's photographs of Joan and one painting are on display.

Dass wrote, "There is one (photograph) that is most representative of Steven's body of work which features Joan as a part of an elaborate set. He titled this piece 'Joan's Enlightenment,' again focusing on the highest aspects of his subject, suspending her in a field of symbols and constellations, reminiscent of Tibetan thangkas."

"He would create these incredible tableau photos, a combination of so many mediums," Wainwright said. "Models would get in costume, he created these elaborate sets, fantasy or ethereal or nude settings, and unified the scene by shooting it in black and white, almost like a film still."

Guests will be able to enjoy a taste of that experience with the Photo Mania booth. Claudia Fuentes, the museum's graphic designer, created a backdrop for the photos and guests can incorporate props from Fantasy Frocks.

Wainwright said, "They reference some of the themes, religious iconography, objects that explore themes of life and death, fantasy items."

Everyone will have a chance to pose for a photo and will be able to take a copy home.

After the film screening, which begins at 6:30 p.m. and features an introduction from Dass, other fun to be had Thursday night includes sets by DJ Cat and DJ Chuck 1, who will curate playlists to set the mood then set the stage for dancing later in the night.

There will also be themed cocktails from Tiki-Ko, using spirits from Wolf Spirits Distillery. (The Oregon-based business was co-founded by local farmer Brian Kirchenmann, who is sponsoring this event along with Moneywise Wealth Management.)

Guests can choose between the mezcal Alejandro, Tiki-Ko's take on the brandy Alexander made with Bosscal mezcal, Kahlua and vegan heavy cream, then dusted with nutmeg; or the Castro, a riff on the cable car cocktail named for the San Francisco neighborhood, that is made with Tom of Finland vodka, Grand Marnier, cinnamon syrup and lemon juice. Those who want to keep it simple can opt for a Red Stripe beer.

Attendees will also be able to view Arnold's portraits as well as the other 150-plus objects on display in the exhibition, presented by The Wonderful Co. The unprecedented display, which spans the entire museum, features work from nearly 70 artists including Ed Moses, Billy Al Bengston, Lynda Benglis, Peter Alexander, Frank Gehry, Robert Graham and Ed Ruscha.

And, of course, everyone has a chance to dress to impress.

What's great about the masquerade is people come in all forms of dress, some might not even have a costume to those who get in full surreal-inspired garb," Wainwright said.

All looks are encouraged, from a simple mask to even something fun in your closet that you don't get to wear often.

She said, "Explore the character or explore the person you want to be — or feel you are when you're at your best."

Stefani Dias can be reached at 661-395-7488. Follow her on Twitter: @realstefanidias.

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