Bob Dylan was the first portrait to be hung. His eyes were startlingly blue and, following the instructions of the artist Princess Gloria von Thurn und Taxis, two columns in the space had been painted that same blue to match. Next up—and some protocols of celebrity precedence were perhaps being observed here—was Andy Warhol. As with Dylan, Warhol’s face was full frontal and closely cropped, passport picture-style, and his eyes were bright blue too.
This installation was being whipped into shape by Antoine Guerrero, of the art center Whitebox, at the Hotel Chelsea Storefront Gallery. It was just a couple of days before the opening of Come On Darling, Don’t Be Mad, a show of 60 portraits by Thurn und Taxis. Likenesses included Leonard Cohen, Alice Cooper, Quentin Crisp, Frida Kahlo, Willem de Kooning, Allen Ginsberg, Jimi Hendrix, Dennis Hopper, Edie Sedgwick and Jasper Johns, just to name a few. And, yes, most of them looked remarkably alike, although Kahlo is minus the monobrow and phantasmal mustache that she would emphasize in her own unflinchingly cool-eyed selfies.
The makings of a great, if volatile party and a volatile, sequential party is pretty much what it was, these all being individuals who at one stage or another stayed at the Chelsea Hotel on West 23rd street. Thurn und Taxis, who was often in Manhattan in the Disco Years, never stayed there but knew it well. I have personally felt an umbilical connection with the place since first living there in 1967, when fellow inmates included Charles James and Billy Apple, a New Zealand conceptualist who launched Apple, one of New York’s first alternative spaces just up the street from the hotel in 1969. Indeed I have stayed often since: Once during Disco Days in the suite of one Club Kid, Gitsey; once during a hurricane (not Sandy) when its solidity was reassuring; and— most recently and lastly—during those faux End Days. This was when the last holdouts in the hotel would huddle like a group in a post-apocalyptic movie, eating El Quijote and awakening to find art vanished and pale crosses painted on the doors in the emptying corridors.
As with the High Line, the Chelsea’s goose seemed cooked. Didn’t happen. In either case, The Chelsea Hotel is now the centerpiece of a small group of art-inflected hotels, which Ed Scheetz, who formerly worked with Ian Schrager at the Morgans Group, launched in May and is now busily refocusing. It was Richard Pandiscio, a partner of Scheetz, who brought in that baby locomotive from back then, Gloria von Thurn und Taxis.
The princess’s rebirth as a public artist has been fairly recent. “I did all these faces in Paris,” she says. “And I didn’t know what to do with these faces. So I designed a wallpaper.” She showed the work to a designer friend, Pierre Passebon. “He told me he was making an exhibition of wallpaper.”
She was in business.
“I only make one of each. My first one is always the best,” she says. “It’s like with my songs. I only do one take.”
Thurn und Taxis arrived at the show by motorbike—just like the old days. The gallery is an oblong space with the minimalist chic of a construction site—just like the new days. Linda Troeller, an indefatigable documentarian of the hotel, was already hungrily snapping away. This gallery, which was never actually part of the hotel, has had a mixed history. Antoine Guerrero says that at one point it was a fish and chip shop. Tony Notarberardino, who has been taking powerful Chelsea hotel portraits for many years and who still lives in the hotel, says: “There was never an art gallery connected with the hotel. It’s kind of uncanny that it’s all happening.” What was there before? “A shoe shop…a comic shop.”
The place was swiftly choc-a-bloc and a whole juicy cast list of Manhattan socio-cultural history was on the loose, from Jeff Koons, Lady Liliana Cavendish, Jessica Craig-Martin and Suzanne Bartsch to Calvin Klein, Peter Marino, Aby Rosen and Sante D’Orazio. John Richardson was alertly holding court. Andre Balasz, who was rumored to have cast an inquisitive eye on the hotel, was chatting with Ed Scheetz who had snapped it up. It was the kind of savory mix that can only be cooked up in Manhattan, in short, so that you could imagine those faces blurring, dissolving into those familiar faces on the wall. High time, I think, for Princess Gloria von Thurn und Taxis to get those pencils out.