An Artist Pretended to Be a Billionaire to Infiltrate New York’s Most Elite Apartments and Take ‘Ugly Pictures of Very Fancy Buildings’
Andi Schmied convinced real estate brokers with nothing more than a fake identity and a makeover.
If you want views of the New York skyline from the city’s highest penthouses, you’d better have tens of millions of dollars handy. Or just pretend you do.
That’s what Budapest-based Hungarian artist Andi Schmied did while in New York as part of a Triangle Arts Association residency. With a clever story and some acting skills, Schmied gained access to some of the city’s most coveted properties and took photos sof the generic signifiers of outrageous wealth.
Schmied posed as “Gabriella” (the artist’s middle name), a mother of one whose husband is an antiques dealer (she had a friend go along with the ruse). Based on the supposed glamour of her husband’s profession, the artist talked her way into 25 of the city’s priciest properties, including architect Rafael Viñoly’s 432 Park Avenue, where a 96th-floor unit sold for $87.7 million in 2016. She also infiltrated apartments at the Time Warner Center, 432 Park Avenue, and Central Park Tower, the tallest residential building in the world.
The artist is publishing her photos in the book Private Views: A High-Rise Panorama of Manhattan, available next month from Prague’s VI PER Gallery in an edition of 1,000. But don’t expect it to be a coffee table volume devoted to glossy shots of aspirational luxury.
“I do a lot of photography, but it’s very objectively, technically, not good photography,” the artist told Artnet News. “These are ugly pictures of very fancy buildings.”
Some of the artist’s images resemble classic promotional photos, while others depict less flattering scenes, like the view on a cloudy day, when fog has obscured the city. In many places, the real estate agents’ sales patter is transcribed atop the photos, including trash-talk about their competitors’ properties.
While Congress debates whether to dole out another few hundred dollars to strapped Americans amid an unprecedented financial crisis (and as people are joking about using the money to build guillotines), the project’s class critique is easy to see.
Schmied, who studied architecture and urban design in college, is fascinated with buildings and the kinds of access they create and deny. And, ironically enough, these lofty residences, which cast shadows over Central Park, are usually just investment vehicles for the owners, who typically own five similar properties around the world, according to the artist. “So they’re not living in at least four of them!” she said.
Another Schmied project took aim at a different kind of vacant luxury, on the other side of the globe. Jing Jin City, about 100 miles from Beijing, is a sparsely inhabited resort town featuring thousands of villas, a horse racing track, and golf courses. The developers sold only a fraction of the properties, she learned, so they created a Potemkin Village where some of the gardeners and other staff have moved in to the sprawling villas. The artist traveled there in 2014 and created sculptural interventions in some of the empty surrounds, documenting them for her book Jing Jin City, co-authored with artist and filmmaker Lawrence Lek.
Private Views also includes an interview between the co-founders of Prague’s VI PER gallery (architectural historian Irena Lehkoživová and art historian Barbora Špičáková) and Schmied and “Gabriella.” The late architect and critic Michael Sorkin also pretended to be an apartment shopper in order to pen his own acid critique for the book, while architectural historian Anthony Vidler contributes a text from a fictitious “little black book” by one “Anatole Frobisher Abramsky Esquire,” allegedly found in a penthouse at Hudson Yards.
So, now that the book is almost done, where is “Gabriella?” Has she found her luxury aerie? Schmied thinks so.
“I think she’s in her soaking tub near the window,” said the artist, “having champagne with her husband.”
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