By Katie Keith
When Leslie Lalehzar overheard a woman inquiring why all the galleries in Chelsea were closed, she kindly informed her it was because it was Sunday, and all the galleries are closed on Sundays. But, she told the woman, she happened to have the keys to a very special “gallery,” one hosting a show she herself curated, and asked her if she would like to see it.
The “gallery” is an apartment on the 16th floor of the Jean Nouvel building in Chelsea, currently on the market for a little over eight million dollars. Leslie, associated with Sotheby’s International Realty, is one of the listing agents, along with Lynn San Andres of the Mason Alexander Group. The Nouvel building is itself a work of art. The placement, size, and shape of the windows appear random but were designed with the intent of creating framed “postcard photos” of New York City’s landscape. Not a single facade of the building repeats; each is unique.
Leslie describes the interior as creating a “dichotomy between the vibrant, mosaic-like asymmetric window facade of varied shapes and sizes with a calm, minimalist interior.” The kind of interior you might find, for instance, in an art gallery. This was the inspiration for the show: Collage as Matter.
The show is a group exhibition of nine artists each presenting their interpretation on the theme “collage.” Leslie is also an artist and her work is included. In the living room, a large space consisting of a 30-foot-long wall of glass facing the Hudson, there is one piece by each artist. As you move through the apartment, discovering the work, the placement is as exciting as the art. “There is a surprise element with the different levels of the windows and that’s how I wanted to hang the show as well.”
Some of the work provides a contrast to the views, bringing color, geometry, and dimension to the space and scenes of overlapping red masonry and blue steel. Other pieces lend interpretation to the views, and reciprocally, the views lend interpretation to the art. Lalehzar describes it as an “exchange and interaction or role-playing,” which “creates a unique perspective on art and architecture.” The pieces don’t communicate as much as translate. Forms within mimic forms outside.
Material mimics as well. Al Wasserman’s pieces are created from poster walls that were prevalent around the city in the 1990’s. The collages are formed from small scraps, pulled from actual poster walls, which create compelling new forms. Poster walls, which no longer exist, were the pervasive and unavoidable commercial art that stood on the edges of our urban landscape. In his work they are beautifully re-imagined. Wasserman’s work also combines photography “scraps,” details in photos that he incorporates into the collages.
“Didn’t Basquiat do his best work when he was poor and on the streets and had to make use of what was around him?” Lalehzar asked while discussing one of Wasserman’s pieces. Perfectly put from a real estate agent who is also an artist.
The show itself is a type of collage, a merging of the commercial world of real estate sales with artistic inventiveness. “We have a fabulous space—why not use it?” Lalehzar explained, who was once an artist-in-residence at PS1 and got her start in real estate while negotiating studio space for herself and a group of artists in Long Island City. She learned a lot during the process and decided to put it to practical use and become an agent.
Lalehzar is a longtime West Village resident, which means she is very familiar with the ongoing change and evolution of the area. When I asked her about this by email, she said, “There is the pervading knowledge of historical relevancy that cannot be taken or changed from the landscape. So too, the exhibition which showcases our city’s master works of structures, stands side-by-side with the contemporary designs of today.” She calls it, “A fitting collage.”
When the building was completed in 2010, Nicolai Ouroussoff, in the New York Times, described it as “a taut composition of disparate—even conflicting—urban realities. Its shifting appearance in the skyline is a sly commentary on the conflict between public and private realms that is an inevitable byproduct of gentrification,” and “The care with which the views are framed—reinforced by the windows’ simple heavy steel borders—is such that you can almost feel the city tugging at you.”