iheart the Roger Smith Hotel: art salon arrives in Manhattan

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.

The inside wall of the Roger Smith Hotel’s entrance changes regularly based on the whim and fancy of anybody who chooses to walk by. Framed magnetic pop art images from the “iheart” project are stacked on the floor when not stuck to the wall, and staff, guests and just about anyone else can pick them up and rearrange them in an attempt to make a point or express a feeling. It’s fun, hands on and expressive. You become a part of the exhibition.

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]

Affordable Art Fair: Putting the beautiful within reach

The Affordable Art Fair wrapped up in New York last weekend, crowed until the end. The event, which highlights originals and reproductions that don’t require obscene wealth to own, is the antithesis of a global art market in which the appreciation of beauty has been nudged aside by appreciation in value.

Galleries from around the world were represented at the event, which was home to more than 70 exhibitors for four days. I wandered the floor, often not knowing which way to look as my senses were assaulted by engaging pieces that could actually wind up adorning the walls of my apartment.


Throughout my experiences on Sunday afternoon, in the waning hours of the art fair, I couldn’t shake a feeling of satisfaction: a thrill that anyone could begin to collect art as a result of the Affordable Art Fair. I remember being moved almost to anger through 2007 as the global art market bubble formed, making it nearly impossible for all but society’s wealthiest to participate. Even with the subsequent collapse in 2008, helped along by the financial crisis, it was still clear that art collecting was inherently exclusive.

These feelings fell away as I spoke with Laurance Lafforgue of ArtWeLove and artist Kamol Akhumov. I realized that art is actually inclusive, and it’s open to all to participate.

I stepped onto W. 34th Street after leaving the Affordable Art Fair with a fresh excitement for art and art collecting. Forget about the market; focus on the art.

Cruise art seller, Park West, accused of fraud

It looks like Royal Caribbean just dodged a bullet. The cruise line announced last month that it wasn’t going to renew its contract with art auction provider Park West – and the timing couldn’t be better. Passengers who have purchased pieces from Park West are coming out of the woodwork with accusations that Park West was peddling “fake, forged and overpriced work and using phony appraisals and certificates of authenticity,” according to USA Today.

One passenger, Marti Szosta, picked up 21 pieces from Park West while on Royal Caribbean cruises from 2005 to 2007 – some of the art market‘s hottest years – and dropped $48,000 in the process. “I was sick, I could hardly breathe” she was quoted as saying when she learned of the value of her art investment.

Says USA Today:

Szostak tells the news outlet she worked three jobs to pay for the art and then decided to sell, only to be told by art dealers that the art was largely worthless. She says experts told her signatures on limited-edition prints by Dalí she had bought at the auctions were forged.

Several buyers are now suing Park West, which faces charges of racketeering, fraud and violating consumer protection laws. Albert Scaglione, Park West’s founder, denies the allegations and says, “We have never done anything wrong.”

Daily Pampering: An evening in Paris with Lucian Freud

Is there any greater luxury than art? Nothing compares to dropping several million dollars on a single canvas, arranging to have it shipped home and having it suspended from your wall. Beyond an aesthetic decision or an investment, it’s also a reminder of a trip that will stay with you forever. So, if you’re planning an art-related trip, Paris needs to be on your mind. Though Lucian Freud failed to deliver on his black eye at auction last month, you can enjoy his work at the Centre Pompidou in Paris from March 10 to July 19, 2010.

Lucian Freud, a pround member of the Francis Bacon “supply chain,” is among the poster-children of the art market boom that ended with the near-collapse of the global financial system in Septemer 2008. The hype around Freud began in 2002, when London‘s Tate was home to a retrospecive. Today, we aren’t seeing the eight-figure price tags for Freud’s work common through May 2008 , bu he’s still shown that he can rake in prices in the millions of dollars.

True decadence, of course, can only be found in snatching up one of these pieces and bringing it home.

Want more? Get your daily dose of pampering right here.

Art Basel in Miami to get art market’s pulse

Next week, while shoppers will be dashing in and out of stores — and caving to the pressures of the holiday season — the art community will be feeling its own anxiety. Art Basel in Miami Beach, the top art show in the United States, kicks off on December 3, 2009. This event, the U.S. version of Switzerland’s Art Basel show, will bring more than 250 art galleries from around the world, showing 20th and 21st century pieces from more than 2,000 artists. The exhibitions will be held in Miami’s Art Deco District. Video, performance and public art will be on display, and collectors will have the chance to open their wallets.

The art community is pretty nervous. The market has spent the past year in a slump, with auction prices falling 70 percent or more and some collectors unable to sell their pieces, even when willing to accept such dismal prices. There are signs that the art market is recovering, but the near future is far from certain.

Interested attending? Through Ticketmaster, one-day tickets cost $35, with $55 for two days and $75 to attend the entire event (which ends on December 6, 2009). And, click here to see some of the other events that will be held alongside Art Basel.

[Painting by artist Benjamin Krell]