Baby Jesus rests on a disco ball once owned by Al Capone.
Mary and Joseph look on as The Dream Academy’s version of The Smiths’ “Please, Please, Please Let Me Get What I Want” plays from speakers above.
We sip hot chocolate on the dirty sidewalk and stare at the glowing vintage nativity scene and its choreographed light show. We take pictures with cell phones. Cars pass behind us on Main Street, and the Stratosphere looms in the distance.
“I love you. I totally love you,” a friend tells Todd VonBastiaans, the creator of the display, who wears a 1920s Marshall Fields beaver-fur top hat and vintage wool coat with beaver-fur collar.
VonBastiaans is pleased. Much went into his holiday greeting: a compilation of tradition, kitsch, lighting, sound and art.
Called No Vacancy, it sits in the window of Alios, his gallery and lighting business, and merges the Bethlehem story with that of the near-empty Arts District.
Nothing is incidental here. VonBastiaans comes to this as an artist and lighting designer with a background in theater. His top hat was bought on eBay for this very moment. The disco ball was purchased in Chicago, his hometown, where he remembers the holiday window displays at Marshall Field’s. A Venske and Spanle abstract marble sculpture serves as a lamb and a towering Wayne White sculpture is the innkeeper.
The rising of a Rolladen security shutter frames the 1950s lawn nativity scene. The gallery’s overhang finishes the proscenium effect. Even the music, which VonBastiaans refers to as the perfect Christmas song, was selected because it played in “the museum scene in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off,” one of VonBastiaans’ favorite movies, and because director John Hughes died this year.
A fan of Christmas—who grew up poor and rescued the bottom half of a Christmas tree from basement garbage—VonBastiaans is in his element.
No Vacancy, the installation, is for this night only. But it continues down the street at Trifecta Gallery as a stop-motion animated short film that plays on iPod nanos and depicts the Nativity characters strolling the Arts District.
In the video, Joseph and Mary come across the shuttered gallery, go inside, look at the art and decide that there they will have the baby. The three wise men, guided by the Stratosphere, come to rejoice in the new arrival.
Stills from the video were printed onto Franklin Mint plates that hang in the gallery. The “commemorative plates” were designed to mirror holiday plates released each year with holiday films.
Meanwhile, on this chilly First Friday, passersby stop by the nativity for a photo opportunity.
Retro Vegas, the neighboring vintage store, is decked with a 1950s tinsel Christmas tree, window trimmings and a vintage cardboard chimney display.
A furniture store across the street has Christmas lights, “Happy Holidays” is painted on an awning store and a holiday vixen is painted on a window of a nearby boutique.
“Everybody did something appropriate to their business,” VonBastiaans says. “It’s Christmas on Main Street USA.”