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Art in Residence: The James New York

With the Amory Show approaching, Bonnie Tsui reviews a new art-centric hotel in Manhattan's Soho
Sarah Frost, Qwerty 5 (2010), The James, New York, USA
Discarded keyboard keys


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At The James New York, a new art-centric hotel in Manhattan's Soho, the permanent in-house collection was assembled by an independent curator, Matthew Jensen, in collaboration with Artists Space, a neighbourhood artists' collective; each of the hotel's 14 guest room floors is dedicated to the work of a single New York-based artist. Public areas are also prime exhibition space: _QWERTY 5_, a mosaic of thousands of recycled keyboard keys, is installed on one wall of the entrance foyer, custom-created for the hotel by the artist Sarah Frost. Constructed entirely from scavenged materials, Frost’s pieces examine the remains of consumer culture and - fittingly for a hotel installation - the imprints of users left behind.

“The sculptural work and the outdoor work in the hotel is unified by the fact that the artists are using reclaimed materials,” says Jensen. Other public art installations in the building include Elevator, by Korean artist Sun K. Kwak, a striking, graphically patterned piece that utilises cut black vinyl to create a design in the white elevator shaft, visible as the hotel’s glass elevator moves up and down between the first-floor foyer and the third-floor sky lobby. “I like the fact that it references the motion of water and a gyre,” says Jensen. He adds that it is also probably the most adventurous piece in the hotel - the artist worked in the elevator shaft with the elevator hanging above her.

Jensen envisioned the hotel as “a series of halls in a tall, narrow museum” to display the show, titled Stand Here and Listen, 14 floors of new paintings, prints, photographs and works-on-paper by emerging artists who are using landscape as a conceptual element in their work. The corridors of each floor function as dedicated gallery space, and informational placards by the elevator include barcodes that are scannable by smartphone, so that viewers can find out more about the artists-in-residence.

During a recent stay, I found myself on the 16th floor admiring the blurry, ephemeral oil paintings by Christopher Saunders, a 2010 Fellow in Painting from the New York Foundation for the Arts. His paintings have a perfection about them - Jensen says that Saunders labours to get an inkjet-print precision - but there’s an abstraction, too, with floating houses and dappled reflections; his artist's notes show a concern with the transience of landscape: "Landscape can be used as a medium with which we are creatively involved, a locus for the interplay of orientation, identity, memory, and the poetic possibilities of misrecognition." Since my room was on the 16th floor, I got to see Saunders’ work more frequently, and every time I embarked and disembarked from the elevator, I had the opportunity to become more familiar with it. 

The shape of the hotel and its configuration influenced Jensen’s choices and his take on the idea of art in residence. “Because you stay on the floor, you get to know an artist’s stuff a little bit better, and I like that,” Jensen says. He intends each floor to be its own exploration of the notion of public and perceived landscapes, playing with the idea of a dedicated “viewing spot” that occurs in popular tourist destinations. “Because of the tight confines of the halls, you’re pretty close to the work, and it’s quiet and intimate. And despite the difference in medium and theme between the artists, there’s a horizon line in almost every work. There’s always a place to stand.”


Bonnie Tsui lives in San Francisco. She is a regular contributor to The New York Times and the author of American Chinatown.


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