I would not have been surprised to find the likes of Denis Diderot and Jean-Jacques Rousseau sitting across from me Friday night. Reviving a concept only too scarce since the end of the eighteenth century, the Roger Smith Hotel was host to a dinner that centered on the exchange of ideas and the appreciation of art. The creators themselves were in attendance, flanked by friends, admirers and even the lowly folks who sit on the sidelines and chronicle these affairs. In midtown Manhattan, known for flocks of tourists eager to consume the same eye-candy as the previous wave, it was a rare reprieve from the commodity norm.
The arts are important to the Roger Smith Hotel, evident from the Lexington Avenue sidewalk in front of the property. A look inside THE LAB, home to installation and performance art, shows what can be done with a converted storefront to provide intellectual depth and enrichment in a world characterized by the swift progress of passers by, not unlike the 25CPW studio on the Upper West Side and other non-traditional gallery spaces. As you move farther up the street and turn to the main entrance, the interactive display immediately to your right drives the point home. In fact, it was the reason I was at the hotel in the first place.
I encountered the iheart project for the first time at New York’s Affordable Art Fair a couple of weeks ago. Entering the ArtWeLove booth, I was struck immediately by the display, which consumed a generous amount of wall space. After talking for a bit with company founder Laurence Lafforgue, I was hooked, and didn’t hesitate to accept her invitation to the iheart dinner at the Roger Smith. Not knowing what to expect, I showed up early (unusual for me) and grabbed a glass of wine and a cigar at the hotel’s rooftop bar with my friend and fellow blogger Laurie DePrete, who introduced me to the Affordable Art Fair in the first place, effectively making the experience to come possible.
The crip autumn air and accompanying glass of white wine provided the perfect frame of mind for the iheart dinner: it was impossible to avoid clarity, openness and a sense of excitement after viewing the city below with the lubricating effects of the vino, of course.
The room had filled in my absence, and upon first inspection, it was evident that a varied crowd would make for a lively and insightful evening. Salient eccentricity made the artists easy to identify, and clusters of conversation indicated which guests were present in support of the creators. Interestingly, the artists were not holding court in these disparate collections of discourse. Rather, their palpable humility made interpretation the main event, as observations tended to trump explanations. Underscoring this dynamic was a video projected on a screen at the front of the room, showing the variations on the front door display that had already come to life … and departed. Punctuating the conversation were pauses to look up, yielding the knowing looks of some and the expressions of awe by others.
With iheart being the guiding theme of the dinner, it followed naturally that the artists in attendance were responsible for variations on the original, having put their own imprimaturs on this spirited concept. In a sense, it was a vast, asynchronous collaboration, involving unique and divergent perspectives that nonetheless came together into a cohesive whole. An international effort representing three continents, a bevy of accents and broad range of experiences came together seamlessly, demonstrating that a shared mission can translate to a spectacular outcome, even without strict and rigid control.
As the meal was served and the table filled with plates, wine glasses and the spoken word shooting to and fro, with the original conversation groups mixing into new pockets of insight on art and art market issues. It was impossible not to share ideas, even while chomping on the pasta served by the hotel, given the diversity sitting elbow-to-elbow. I was particularly excited to speak with Kosuke Fujitaka, co-founder of NY Art Beat, which has an iPhone app listing in granular detail the city’s many (and perhaps otherwise unknown) art exhibitions.
The evening drew to a close, and I again retired to the rooftop bar to smoke a Guillermo Leon Signature cigar, sip my final glass of wine and watch the staff collect the blankets from the chairs (a nice touch for combating the late-night chill) as they wound down, too. The direct exchange of ideas was ending, though it would doubtless continue through the Roger Smith’s interactive exhibition, the online presence of the iheart project and, of course, the collective and separate efforts of the artists and onlookers.
Doubtless, Diderot and Rousseau would have been proud. If slightly divergent from their experiences, the spirit was certainly present, contrasting wildly with the relative mayhem of the streets 16 floors below. ArtWeLove, iheart and the Roger Smith created an experience nearly absent from today’s social lexicon, reviving the art of thinking for its own sake.
[photos by Laurie DePrete]