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Planners turning weddings into works of art

by DANIELLE BRAFF THE NEW YORK TIMES | August 15, 2021 at 1:56 a.m.

Kristin Banta is a Los Angeles event planner specializing in weddings, but you might not know this from her recent functions.

For one wedding, she designed a gigantic banana peel on the reception floor. In another, she worked with vendors to construct 250 feet of golden nautical rope to serve as a centerpiece. She had a flock of 5,000 paper cranes made for a third.

The strangest, though, may have been the antlers dipped in automotive paint. Or maybe it was the floating candy cloud reachable via a golden ladder.

"Today's couples want something provocative, memorable, experiential, tactile and reflective of who they are as a couple," Banta said.

Banta added that although this artsy trend started before the pandemic, she has noticed an increase in new clients who want to incorporate installations in their wedding designs.

It's not enough anymore for a couple to toss a few floral centerpieces on a table, serve a meal, or hire a DJ or band. Artists are the newest in-demand vendor as some weddings are starting to resemble interactive art galleries.

Dr. Prethee Martina, a 29-year-old plastic and reconstructive surgeon in Chennai, capital of the state of Tamil Nadu in South India, has been obsessed with Vincent Van Gogh since she was a teen. So when it came time to plan her wedding to Dr. Ram Gautham, an orthopedic surgeon, last November in Pondicherry, India, she wanted her favorite artist to play a major role.

"I ended up going into medicine," she said, "but I've always wanted the first artist I was introduced to to be a part of such an important day in our lives."

Martina asked her wedding planners to re-create the idea of Van Gogh's paintings. They installed a starry night abstract outside the gates of her wedding venue in Pondicherry, a small French town in the heart of South India. Wheat and lavender fields were created along the pathways to the courtyard. They filled the courtyard with sunflowers, created fabric abstract sunflower backdrops and table arrangements, and transformed a blank courtyard with a green wall and a massive floral arrangement so it would become the iconic green bridge. The wedding for 50 people cost about $50,000.

Other couples are looking to museums for inspiration. Beth Helmstetter, founder and principal of Beth Helmstetter Events, based in Los Angeles, hired an artist to create a sketch that was used on stationery as well as on the dance floor. For another wedding, Helmstetter said, she created a rose chandelier installation inspired by a work of art the couple had viewed at a museum.

"Art is always a source of inspiration for myself and for my clients," Helmstetter said. "It's quite common for us to hire artists to create backdrops, stationery and more."

For artists, wedding creations are a relatively new experience. Josana Blue has been a working artist in Brooklyn, N.Y., for more than 20 years, and last year she was asked to do a large-scale installation at Sound River Studios in Queens for a wedding. In October, she'll be executing her second large installation.

"As artists, we all find our different venues, audiences and patrons," Blue said. "We must have great versatility with our creative skills to not only stay employed but also in keeping true to who we are as artists."

Designlab Experience was hired in 2014 for a 3,500-person wedding in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, to create a lucid dream where guests are aware that they're dreaming. To make this work, the company teamed up with artists to create Swarovski crystal clouds and three-dimensional magical creatures. The Covent Garden Chamber Orchestra, conducted by Pamela Nicholson, was also hired.

"Guests were immersed in a dreamlike space filled with 15,000 light sticks, 65,000 Swarovski crystals, 4,000 paper cranes, a full orchestra, birds, falcons, gazelles, flowers and fine cuisine," said Hibah Albakree, managing partner of Designlab Experience.

Of course, moods can be created on a much smaller scale.

Peter McKintosh, a theater set and costume designer in London, spent about $2,500 for Harriet Parry, a florist, to transform a gastropub into "A Midsummer Night's Dream" for a wedding.

McKintosh wanted the arrangements to look edgy, so Parry placed spiky red roses, moss and fake butterflies throughout the pub to give it the desired effect.

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