My Night at Al’s Grand Hotel at Frieze

At the Frieze merchandise mart, an oasis of art away from the $elling frenzy.

As a guest of my good friend Jeanne Meyers, I spent Friday evening in Al’s Grand Hotel, the recreation of Allen Ruppersberg’s 1971 six-week hotel venture on Sunset Boulevard.

Eating and sleeping. It doesn’t get more basic than that.

In 1971, while Al was turning life into art in the land of the Lotus Eaters, Carol Goodden and Gordon Matta-Clark were starting FOOD on the East Coast. (Both were memorialized in Frieze Projects.) A lot was changing in 1971, including me.

I had hitchhiked across the country, and a chance meeting had me moving from Pittsburgh to a commune in Orange, New Jersey. While sketching in a diner in Newark, Al Hansen picked me up and brought me to New York to meet all his artist friends, including my future partner Sur Rodney (Sur).



Gracie Mansion, far left.
Photo: Courtesy Gracie Mansion.

That was then.

Now, today, it seems to be in the wind to give newbies and millennials a taste of what it was like before being an artist became a professional choice. There was once a point when it seemed like the line between art and commerce had not been crossed, or at least they were looking at each across a comfortable and hazy distance.

I think these kinds of projects are needed in order for the beast to not eat its young. But why might this be happening, really? These shows are happening as a much needed counterpoint to the current market driven art world. I see it as part of the necessary fabric of the art market. If you have warp without weft, it is flimsy and without substance.

“When Attitudes Becomes Form,” a re-creation of Harald Szeemann’s ground-breaking 1969 show at Kunsthalle Bern, took the art world by storm when it premiered during the Venice Biennale at the Prada Foundation. Right now you can see James Fuentes’ tribute to the Real Estate Show still up until May 18 at Cuchifritos at Essex Market. I am hoping for a restaging of Charlotte Moorman’s Avant-Garde Festival next.

Cecilia Alemani, the curator of Projects for Frieze has made it her raison d’être to pay homage to these artist-run projects and put a good shot of reality and humanity into the midst of what is a five-day art market feeding frenzy cocktail. By the end of this, by the end of Frieze, we are all woozy and bleary-eyed.

And in the midst of this merchandise mart is a little oasis of real unreality, “Al’s Grand Hotel. Frieze pulled out all the stops and wrote a big check to stage the hotel and provide 4-star amenities for the lucky guests, and I was one of them.

Check-in time was 6:45 p.m., just as Frieze was emptying out. We were greeted by our host, Lauren Mackles from Public Fiction, and Cecilia Alemani.


Photo: Courtesy Frieze.

There were two rooms: the Jesus Room and the Bridal Suite, both interesting choices for two straight women of a certain age; one a Jew and the other Agnostic. Lauren wished us “happy glamping” and left us in the care of Richard Schoepke, an honest-to-God, real-life, life-experienced night manager.

As they say, the devil is in the details, and they got it down. A sumptuous meal was provided by Frankie Spuntino. I threw my carb cautions to the wind and feasted on pasta with peas and mint, eggplant parmigiana, burrata, and mushroom pasta.

The swag was staggering in its cool specificity: a striped bed shirt by COS, molded sleep mask by Dream Essentials, and Clarins body cream. There were even fluffy white towels, slippers, and a robe.

Lauren had programmed the TV with film noir and artist videos but in the end we stayed up talking into the night with the other guest, Carl Swanson, of New York magazine. We were strangers brought together in a hotel lobby talking about the art that was out of reach to us, albeit just a few feet away. As in Buñuel’s “exterminating angel,” we could see the world beyond but couldn’t broach the invisible wall.

After an evening of good wine, great food and spirited conversation, Jeanne and I toddled off to the Bridal Suite. We both slept right through the night, even as, just feet away, crews of workers reinstalled the booths and cleaners swept and vacuumed through the night.

In the morning, we took hot showers. Cecilia Alemani stopped in to say good-bye. We ate breakfast before being ushered out through the pre-show bustle.


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