Each month in The Hammer, art industry veteran Simon de Pury lifts the veil on his life as the ultimate art world insider, his connections with celebrity and his invaluable understanding of the inner workings of the market. art.
Just in time for its 90th anniversary, the legendary Waldorf Astoria New York hotel has reopened. Over the past five years, this Art Deco gem has been painstakingly restored at the instigation of its Chinese owners, Dajia US. iconic, quintessentially New York location.
The Waldorf Astoria Towers are where I stayed when I made my first business trip to New York over 40 years ago. Baron Hans Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza, whose phenomenal collection I have had the privilege of conserving, recommended it. As soon as I walked into its bustling lobby for the first time, I was electrified by its atmosphere. Businessmen from all over the world, bankers, traders, tourists, artists, stylish ladies, children and their nannies were creating an irresistible commotion and buzz. Sitting in a corner and watching the painting was more exciting than watching any movie. You heard all the languages around you, and it was instantly energizing. I realized that the Waldorf Astoria was representative of the melting pot that is New York, a city that I have come to love through all its changes.
At the end of 2016, Tianjing (Nico) Zhou, the young executive of Dajia US, was reading The auctioneer, my book co-authored with William Stadiem. He contacted me and made an appointment for me. He explained to me his vision for the new Waldorf Astoria and asked if I would be interested in helping him acquire works of art that could be exhibited both in the public spaces and in the private rooms of the hotel. As someone who over the years of being something of a traveling salesman had spent more time in hotel rooms than in my own bed and in more restaurants than in my own kitchen, this project seemed very exciting.
Most hoteliers and restaurateurs tend to be pragmatic when it comes to choosing design elements and what goes on the walls of their projects. A budget would be allocated and each year the accountants would note the overall value of the furniture and decorations until a completely new redevelopment was needed, every 10 years or so. In the bedrooms you would mostly have prints on the wall and often the same picture no matter which room you were staying in.
Of course, guests tend to pay the utmost attention to the quality of personalized service, the amenities and facilities available, and impeccable cleanliness. When I think about my favorite places though, the ones with souls, they all have equivalent or better art and design than you would put in your own home. La Colombe d’Or in Saint-Paul-de-Vence is such a place. I remember my first visit, when French singer and actor Yves Montand was seated at a table with his wife, actress Simone Signoret. Next to the small but charming swimming pool was a large, stable sculpture of Calder. Wonderful works by Picasso, Braque, Miró and Chagall, as well as César and Arman, were visible in every corner of the old buildings. A large Fernand Léger mosaic in the garden made the nearest table the most desirable.
I speak in the past tense only because I am describing my first impressions from many years ago. I might as well speak in the present tense, since literally nothing at the August Hotel has changed since, including the large menus written in many colors. Continuity was ensured by the same family of owners. Over the years, they have been able to resist the siren songs of the many art dealers who tried to convince them to part with certain works and take advantage of the ever higher prices on the art market. The Christmas holidays I spent with my four children then and their mother there are unforgettable. True, there is more luxury in most five-star palaces, but nothing can replace the aura of being surrounded by art.
The Kronenhalle in Zurich is a similar example. Even though I am in Switzerland’s banking center for just one day, it is imperative that I eat there. The original owners, Hilda Zumsteg and her son Gustav, are no longer there, but a good part of their art collection is there, including a beautiful still life by Miró. You appreciate your Zürcher Geschnetzeltes mit Rösti under works by Picasso, Varlin, Chagall, Bonnard or Giovanni Giacometti. I remember seeing Andy Warhol and the merchant Thomas Ammann in 1978 having dinner there during the time of Warhol’s one-man show at the Kunsthaus in Zurich. Lunch or dinner at the Kronenhalle is as magical today as it was then. Once again, it’s the art that makes all the difference.
Even a short visit to Berlin must include a meal or a drink at the Paris Bar, the small bistro founded in 1963 in what was then West Berlin. Its walls and even its ceilings are covered with paintings, drawings and photographs. Martin Kippenberger made two large paintings of his interior. A large photograph by Jürgen Teller of a smiling Yves Saint Laurent and a small ceramic figure by Serge Gainsbourg transmit (next to the steak and chips, which is the main menu item) un air de français know how to live in this place where artists, writers and intellectuals spent many drunken nights.
Furniture from a top designer or architect can gain so much value over time that it is ultimately worth more than the real estate it was created for. This is the case with the table and chairs that Carlo Mollino designed in the early 1950s for the Casa del Sole in Cervinia, the ski resort on the Italian side of the Matterhorn. A single table and six chairs of his furniture were sold at Christie’s in 2017 for just under $ 900,000.
More recently, Paddy McKillen, the Irish entrepreneur who is co-owner of the Maybourne Group, owner of Claridge’s, Connaught and Berkeley in London, has made art and design the main feature of several of his projects. This is the case of Château La Coste, a vineyard and hotel near Aix-en-Provence which has become a magnetic cultural destination with its works by Louise Bourgeois, Lee Ufan, Tracey Emin, Sean Scully, Jenny Holzer, Richard Long, and many more. others. Following.
At the Waldorf Astoria in New York, a number of international artists – Minjung Kim, José Yaque, Andrea Mancuso and Flavie Audi have provided works, some of them in situ – which will certainly contribute to the overall experience of its many guests. I hope that other projects of this type will emerge during this century. I love to fantasize about what it would be like to create the ultimate hotel with restaurants from scratch in collaboration with the best contemporary architects, artists and designers.
Simon de Pury is the former President and Chief Auctioneer of Phillips de Pury & Company and is a private dealer, artistic advisor, photographer and DJ. Instagram: @simondepury
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