In a rich red, Upper East Side townhouse living room, for a few weeks last spring, a certain cross-section of New York—art dealers, designers, artists, writers, publishers—met to sip Moscow Mules and talk culture and design.
Think great conversation, comfy chairs, titans of industry, and all that. It was much like an Edith Wharton novel, if she had lived near the Frick Museum and had the good sense to have a sofa by artist Ena Swansea. “Be My Guest: The Art of Interiors,” was an elaborate invitation-only exhibition that made its home in a townhouse by Central Park. “Guests’ full-throttle installations paired work by influential contemporary artists, Mickalene Thomas, Barbara Bloom, and Swansea among them, with prominent designers. The resulting juxtapositions didn’t look quite like either “art” or “design.”
“The white cube look of the art world, its exclusivity, is often suffocating,” said exhibition co-curator Manon Slome, a former Guggenheim Museum curator and co-founder of the arts organization No Longer Empty. Here, the spaces instead offered ambition, color, and, in several cases, a magnetism that drew people in. “What is home?” was the topic assigned to the artists. Thus, “each room was the world of the artist,” explained Lisa Fayne Cohen, who conceived the project and curated the decorative elements in each space. In Thomas’s case, Cohen continued, that world meant the townhouse’s red living room presented in the “fashion and color of a bordello,” along with portraiture of the artist’s mother and evocative personal touches.