001K.jpg (63199 bytes) New York Architecture Images-Chelsea

Chelsea Hotel Landmark


Hubert, Pirsson and Co.


222 West 23rd Street between Seventh and Eighth Avenues  




Queen Anne  




Apartment Building  




"A building, 12-story brick, with brownstone trimmings, flat for 40 families, 175 x 86, mansard, brick, and news patent roof, cost $300,000; owner George M. Smith"
--Real Estate Record and Guide January 20, 1883

Thus was the Hotel Chelsea, New York's first co-operative apartment complex, introduced into the city's fierce rental food chain. An excerpt from the March 29th, 1884 Record and Guide betrays the optimism of the experiment's earliest participants: "The owners of the various apartments do not think that running expenses will cost them anything, as the stores on the ground floor & the two upper stories are retained for tenants, so as to bring in an income." In addition to the points enumerated in the Real Estate Record and Guide, the building included wrought-iron balconies, apartments of one to seven rooms (built to the purchaser's specifications), high ceilings, fire and sound-proof walls, wood-burning fireplaces, and private penthouses. A unique iron staircase, constructed with a wrought-iron balustrade and mahogany banister, ran (and still runs) from the lobby to the twelfth floor.

At the time of the Chelsea's inception, 23rd street served as a fleeting prototype of what would later become the quintessential thoroughfare of American theater, Broadway. Like the Bowery and 14th Street before it, 23rd Street's golden age as a theater strip would pass, but in the late 19th Century the Chelsea was in the center, with the Opera House Palace and Pike's Opera House (24th Street and 8th Avenue) down the block and Proctor's Theater ("continuous daily vaudeville") opening across 23rd Street. It was not until January of 1893 that this began to change, with the establishment of The Empire--Broadway's first proper theater--near 40th Street uptown. As New York historian Lloyd Morris has noted, "nobody realized that the opening of the Empire marked the beginning of a new theatrical era...yet it ushered in the Twentieth Century."

The relocation took several years, but its process ineluctably altered the social landscape of the city. Stripped of its patina of glamour, 23rd Street became a playground for real estate developers and the forces of industrialized commerce. And so the Chelsea, once and impervious stronghold of Opulence, also succumbed to the uglier forces of the market. The financial panics of 1893 and 1903, combined with the rising costs of urban life, bankrupted the Chelsea co-operative and forced the relocation of the original tenants. By 1905, the Chelsea had been sold and reorganized as a hotel.

Thus ended one grand experiment and began another, as the Chelsea Hotel began its life as a home to writers, artists, and urban transients of every variety.

Down the street from the Grand Opera House was the Chelsea Hotel, another landmark of Victorian New York, which Abbott photographed the same day. Built in 1884 when 23rd Street was the center of fashionable New York, the Chelsea Hotel was architecturally conservative--its 12-story brick walls are load-bearing--and lavishly decorated. By the 1930s, it had been the home of several illustrious writers, including O. Henry, Thomas Wolfe, and Edgar Lee Masters, who appreciated its shabby elegance. Abbott may have been attracted to the Chelsea's elaborate iron balconies, an architectural feature that often caught her attention.

In 1966, the Chelsea was granted landmark status, and except for a three-story-high streamlined neon sign that replaced the small sign in Abbott's photograph, the facade remains unchanged. The hotel, which was memorialized in Andy Warhol's 1966 film, Chelsea Girls, has continued to attract writers and artists.

Only thanks to the imigration of artists, creative and critical spirits to the Village around the turn of the century, its charm could have been preserved. In the fifties, the Village became attractive for the beatnicks. In the sixties, the hippies came. In the seventies and eightees, it was the Rock'n'Rollers and everybody who wanted to be hip who made Greenwich Village and neighboring Chelsea symbols of the New York way of life. One of the particular spots is the Chelsea Hotel, meanwhile under national protection. This place is talking more about popular culture and its artists than any other spot in the Village.

The Chelsea was famous even back at a time when Mark Twain was living in one of its rooms. Thomas Wolfe and Arthur Miller have been living and writing there. Miller, who stayed six years at the Chelsea described the famous artist's hotel like this: This hotel does not belong to America. There are no vacuum cleaners, no rules and's the high spot of the surreal. Cautiously, I lifted my feet to move across bloodstained winos passing out on the sidewalks--and I was happy. I witnessed how a new time, the sixties, stumbled into the Chelsea with young, bloodshot eyes.

Until 1884, the Chelsea Hotel was the highest building in New York City. Today it is burried somewhere in the suburbia of Manhattan. The glamor of ancient time has been nagged away by the destruction done by the years. Only the main entrance with its memorial plates is reminding us of the great past of the hotel. The lobby is resembling an art gallery consisting of objects that sometimes were kept by the hotel management in lieu of payment for a rent long overdue.

The reception desk looks like straight out of an old black & white Hollywood movie. Both lifts seem to move in slow motion up and down the ten-story building. Sometimes, the inside of the hotel looks like a barracs. But holes in the floors, sqeeking waterpipes or breathing heatpipes only add to the ambiente of the hotel. Nonchalance is being cultivated in this place. Luxury is unwanted. Usefulness, atmosphere and non-conformism are dominating.

Pompousness is looked down upon, nonetheless there is tidyness all over the place. In the last five years, a lot of money has been spend upon the restauration of the victorian-gothic building with its many oriels.

Even today, only 100 of the Chelsea's 400 'units' are available to 'normal' New York visitors, the rest of them is occupied by permanent residents. The most beautiful of all (# 600) is a luxury suite which has a marble floor and a bronze fireplace and is currently rented to the gay couple writing love stories under the moniker "Judith Gould". If you want to stay at the Chelsea, you'd be better adviced to book at least two months ahead, even if it's only a ordinary room. You rather pay for the famousness of the hotel than for the rooms themselves. You can get a room facing the street at about $ 140 and the Chelsea is highly recommended for people who love something special.

Every room at the Chelsea tells its own story. In # 205, welsh poet Dylan Thomas, who reputedly inspired young Zimmerman to change his name to Bob Dylan, fell into a fatal coma after having 18 whiskies in a row. # 100 was once occupied by Sid Vicious, bass player with The Sex Pistols, and his girlfriend Nancy Spungeon. On the morning of October 11, 1978 Spungeon was found in the bathroom, stabbed to death.

Viscious, arrested under suspicion of murder, died shortly thereafter of a heroin overdose. Jimi Hendrix lived, loved and experimented here, with drugs and other things. Janis Joplin did not only have a love affair with Southern Comfort but also had a short liaison with Leonard Cohen. The canadian rock poet, too, loved the hotel: It's one of those hotels that have everything that I love so well about hotels. I love hotels to which, at four a.m., you can bring along a midget, a bear and four ladies, drag them to your room and no one cares about it at all.

His song Chelsea Hotel is not only a remembrance of past loves with the likes of Janis Joplin or Nico, it's also a declaration of love towards the hotel: I remember you well in the Chelsea Hotel/ You were taking so brave and so free/ Giving me head on the unmade bed/ While the limousines wait in the street/ Those were the reasons and that was New York/ I was running for the money and the flesh/ That was called love for the workers in song/ Probably still is for those of us left.

The list of Big Names of literature, music or the arts scene who stayed at the Chelsea is seemingly bottomless: Jane Fonda, Jackson Pollock, Brendan Behan, Sarah Bernhardt to name but a few. They all encountered tragedies and comedies. They wrote short stories, movie scripts and novels and painted their pictures. They completed their movies within their heads, long before the actual shooting took place. Some of them had fatal endings...

For many, the Chelsea was a hideout or regular adress for many years, remembers Stanley Bard, who's been the hotel manager for almost 40 years now. Some of them lived here over decades. It was only recently that punk-icon Patti Smith moved out.

Stanley Bard appears to be friendly but keeps distance, on the other hand he's happy about reminicing every once in a while and he points out the bookcase in his office. I'm collecting every book that has been written in my hotel, he says taking out Thomas Wolfe's novel You Can't Go Home. Many things have happened here, he continues. Jim Morrison, Hendrix and Janis Joplin were having their drug parties here. Today, there's a 'No Smoking' sign in the hotel lobby.

For many years, Bob Dylan used to live in suite # 2011, # 411 was Janis Joplin's suite. Over the years, Leonard Cohen has lived in many rooms. I like to think of him, back then. He was one of the very few calm ones in these tumultous times. But perhaps his restlessness was better hidden than that of the others. Most of his time in New York in the sixties he was living at # 424. Long after this, Jon Bon Jovi wrote the song and shot his video for 'Midnight At Chelsea" in suite # 515.

But Bard refuses to talk about the mysterious Viscious/Spungeon murder case. That's a different story, he says but he's proud of Andy Warhol's love for the hotel. In the 60s, Warhol and Nico have done a movie, Chelsea Girl, at the hotel. All in all it has been a turbulent time back then, Stanley Bard resumes and wistfully finishes, I don't want to have missed any moment in the life of the Chelsea Hotel.

There's hardly been an artist who has lived in the Chelsea that was not in some way captured by its flair, says Patti Smith. Of course, Leonard Cohen is amongst them and with his song Chelsea Hotel No.2 he not only remembers his former lover Janis Joplin but also puts up a monument to his former hunting trails.

Nonetheless, the song has not been written at the Chelsea. I wrote this for an American singer who died a while ago. She used to stay at the Chelsea, too. I began it at a bar in a Polynesian restaurant in Miami in 1971 and finished it in Asmara, Ethiopia just before the throne was overturned. Ron Cornelius helped me with a chord change in an ealier version, Cohen remarks in the liner notes 'Some Notes On The Songs' of his 1975 Greatest Hits compilation.

Cohen recorded the song in the studio as late as 1974 at the sessions for his album New Skin For The Old Ceremony but premiered the song live on March 23, 1972 at the third show of his London, Royal Albert Hall residency.

Chelsea Hotel No.2, yes, but is there a Chelsea Hotel No.1 ? The answer is No, at least where Cohen's 'official' records are concerned. But, like Bob Dylan, who is varying his set list at every show to keep in fans constantly on their toes, Cohen, too, not seldomly presents radically different versions of his songs, changing lines or adding whole verses. The following version, differing from the officially released one, is commonly known as Chelsea Hotel No.1 and is featured in Tony Palmer's 1972 tour-movie Bird On A Wire. Cohen also performed this version at his show in Frankfurt on April 6, 1972.







    Birds must be eliminated. This astonishing proposal is found in the reverse chronology that Yves Klein drafted at the time of his first one person show in New York City held under the aegis of Leo Castelli in 1961. In that account, now called the Chelsea Hotel Manifesto after the hotel of artists' choice in the 1960's.

    Yves drags us back in reverie to that moment when, as an adolescent, he lay stretched upon the beach of Nice, feeling "hatred for birds which flew back and forth across my blue, cloudless sky because they tried to bore holes in my greatest and most beautiful work."

    The pain that suffuses the Chelsea Manifesto is similar, all proportion guarded, to Beethoven's Heiligenstadt Testament, or Paul Gauguin's despairing painting;

    where do we come from? what are we? where are we going?

    Still, for all the poses struck, the Manifesto is marked by a baroque grandeur of a kind unimaginably preserved in the dictee of the ordinary French classroom. The manifest is best understood when read aloud by jeune premier of classical stock.

    (editors note: this is part of the introduction from "Sponge Reliefs" October 1989 The Gagosian Gallery, also - The Chelsea Hotel Manifesto is copyrighted by the Gagosian Gallery - 1989)



Due to the fact that I have painted monochromes for fifteen years,

Due to the fact that I have created pictorial immaterial states,

Due to the fact that I have manipulated the forces of the void,

Due to the fact that I have sculpted with fire and with water painted with fire and with water,

Due to the fact that I have painted with living brushes - in other words, the nude body of live models covered with paint: these living brushes were under the constant direction of my commands, such as "a little to the right; over to the left now: to the right again, etc.."By maintaining myself at a specific and obligatory distance from the surface to be painted, I am able to resolve the problem of detachment.

Due to the fact that I have invented the architecture and the urbanism of air - of course, this new conception transcends the traditional meaning of the terms "architecture and urbanism" - my goal from the beginning was to reunite with the legend of Paradise Lost. This project was directed toward the habitable surface of the Earth by the climatization of the great geographical expanses through an absolute control over the thermal and atmospheric situation in their relation to our morphological and psychical conditions.

Due to the fact that I have proposed a new conception of music with my "monotone - silence - symphony,"

Due to the fact that I have presented a theatre of the void, among countless other adventures...

I would never have believed, fifteen years ago at the time of my earliest efforts, that I would suddenly feel the need to explain myself - to satisfy the desire to know the reason of all that has occurred and the even still more dangerous effect, in other words - the influence my art has had on the young generation of artists throughout the world today.

It dismays me to hear that a certain number of them think that I represent a danger to the future of art - that I am one of those disastrous and noxious results of our time that must be crushed and destroyed before the propagation of my evil completely takes over.

I regret to reveal that this was not my intention; and to happily proclaim to those who evince faith in the multiplicity of new possibilities in the path that I prescribe - Take care! Nothing has crystallized as yet; nor can I say what will happen after this. I can only say that today I am no longer as afraid as I was yesterday in the face of the souvenir of the future.

An artist always feels uneasy when called upon to speak of his own work. It should speak for itself, particularly when it is valid.

What can I do? Stop now?

No, what I call "the indefinable pictorial sensibility" absolutely escapes this very personal solution.


I think of those words I was once inspired to write. "Would not the future artist be he who expressed through an eternal silence an immense painting possessing no dimension?"

Gallery-goers, like any other public, would carry this immense painting in their memory (a remembrance which does not derive at all from the past, but is solely cognizant of the indefinable sensibility of man).

It is necessary to create and recreate a constant physical fluidity in order to receive the grace which allows a positive creativity of the the void.

Just as I created a "monotone - silence - symphony" in 1947, composed in two parts, - one broad continuous sound followed by an equally broad and extended silence, endowed with a limitless dimension - in the same way, I attempt to set before you a written painting of the short history of my art, followed naturally by a pure and effective silence.

My account will close with the creation of a compelling a posteriori silence whose existence in our communal space, after all - the space of a single being - is immune to the destructive qualities of physical noise.

Much depends upon the success of my written painting in its initial technical and audible phase. Only then will the extraordinary a posteriori silence, in the midst of noise as well as in the cell of physical silence, operate in a new and unique zone of pictorial immaterial sensibility.

Having reached today this point in space and knowledge, I propose to gird my loins, then to draw back in retrospection of the diving board of my evolution. In the manner of an Olympic diver, in the most classic technique of the sport, I must prepare for my leap into the future of today by prudently moving backward, without ever losing sight of the edge, today consciously attained - the immaterialization of art.

What is the purpose of the retrospective journey in time?

Simply, I wish to avoid that you or I fall under the power of that phenomenon of dreams, which describes the feelings and landscapes provoked by our brusque landing in the past. This psychological past is precisely the anti-space that I put behind me during the adventures of these past fifteen years.

At present, I am particularly excited by "bad taste". I have the deep feeling that there exists in the very essence of bad taste a power capable of creating those things situated far beyond what is traditionally termed "The Work of Art". I wish to play with human feeling, with its "morbidity" in a cold and ferocious manner. Only very recently I have become a sort of grave digger of art (oddly enough, I am using the very terms of my enemies). Some of my latest works have been coffins and tombs. During the same time I succeeded in painting with fire, using particularly powerful and searing gas flames, some of them measuring three to four meters high. I use these to bathe the surface of the painting in such a way that it registered the spontaneous trace of fire.

In sum, my goal is twofold: first of all, to register the trace of human sentimentality in present-day civilization; and then, to register the trace of fire, which has engendered this very same civilization - that of the fire itself. And all of this because the void has always been my constant preoccupation; and I believe that fires burn in the heart of the void as well as in the heart of man.

All facts that are contradictory are authentic principles of an explanation of the universe. Truly, fire is one of these principles, essentially contradictory, one from the other, since it is both the sweetness and torture that lies at the heart and origin of our civilization. But what stirs this search for feeling in me through the making of super-graves and super coffins? What stirs this search in me for the imprint of fire? Why search for the Trace itself?

Because every work of creation, regardless of its cosmic place, is the representation of a pure phenomenology - all that is phenomena manifests itself. This manifestation is always distinct from form and it is the essence of the Immediate, the Trace of the Immediate.

A few months ago, for example, I felt the urge to register the signs of atmospheric behavior by recording the instantaneous traces of spring showers on a canvas, of south winds, and of lightning (needless to say, the last-mentioned ended in a catastrophe). For instance, a trip from Paris to Nice might have been a waste of time had I not spent it profitably by recording the wind. I placed a canvas, freshly coated with paint, on the roof of my white Citron. As I drove down Route National 7 at 100 kilometers an hour, the heat, the cold, the light, the wind, and the rain all combined to age my canvas prematurely. At least thirty to forty years were condensed into a single day. The only annoying thing about this project is that for the entire trip I was unable to separate myself from my painting.

My atmospheric imprints of a few months ago were preceded by vegetal imprints. After all, my air is to extract and obtain the trace of the immediate from all natural objects, whatever their origin - be the circumstance human, animal, vegetable, or atmospheric.

I would like now, with you permission and close attention, to divulge to you possibly the most important and certainly the most secret phase of my art. I do not know if you are going to believe me - it is cannibalism. After all, is it not preferable to be eaten that to be bombed to death? I can hardly develop this idea that has tormented me for years. I leave it up to you to draw you own conclusions with regard to the future of art.

If we step back again, following the lines of my evolution, we arrive at the moment when I conceived of painting with the aid of living brushes. That was two years ago. The purpose of this was to be able to attain a defined and constant distance between myself and the painting during the time of creation.

Many critics claimed that by this method of painting I was doing nothing more that recreating the method that has been called "action painting". But now, I would like to make it clear that this endeavor is distinct from "action painting" in so far as I am completely detached from all physical work during the time of creation.

Just to cite one example of the anthropometric errors found within the deformed ideas spread by the international press - I speak of that group of Japanese painters who with great refinement used my method in a strange way. In fact, these painters actually transformed themselves into living brushes. By diving themselves in color and then rolling on their canvases, they became representative of ultra-action-painters! Personally, I would never attempt to smear paint over my body and thus to become a living brush; to the contrary, I would rather put on my tuxedo and don white gloves.

It would never cross my mind to soil my hands with paint. Detached and distant, the work of art must be completed under my eyes and under my command. As the work begins its completion, I stand there - present at the ceremony, immaculate, calm, relaxed, perfectly aware of what is taking place and ready to receive the art being born into the tangible world.

What directed me towards anthropometry? The answer can be bound in the work that I make during the years 1956 to 1957 while I took part in the giant adventure, the creation of pictorial immaterial sensibility.

I had just removed from my studio all earlier works. The result - and empty studio. All that I could physically do was to remain in my empty studio and the pictorial immaterial states of creation marvelously unfolded. However, little by little, I became mistrustful of myself, but never of the immaterial. From that moment, following the example of all painters, I hired models. But unlike the other, I merely wanted to work in their company rather than have them pose for me. I had been spending too much time alone in the empty studio; I no longer wanted to remain alone with the marvelous blue void which was in the process of opening.

Though seemingly strange, remember that I was perfectly aware of the fact that I experienced none of that vertigo, felt by all my predecessors, when they found themselves face to face with the absolute void that is, quite naturally, true pictorial space.

But how long could my security in this awareness endure?

Years ago, the artist went directly to his subject, worked outdoors in the country, had his feet firmly planted on the ground - it was healthy.

Today, easel-painters have become academics and have reached the point of shutting themselves in their studios in order to confront the terrifying mirrors of their canvases. Now the reason I was pushed to use nude models is all but evident: it was a way of preventing the danger of secluding myself in the overly spiritual spheres of creation, thus breaking with the most basic common sense repeatedly affirmed by our incarnate condition.

The shape of the body, its lines, its strange colors hovering between life and death, hold no interest for me. Only the essential, pure affective climate of the flesh is valid.

Having rejected nothingness, I discovered the void. The meaning of the immaterial pictorial zones, extracted from the depth of the void which by that time was of a very material order. Finding it unacceptable to sell these immaterial zones for money, I insisted in exchange for the highest quality of the immaterial, the highest quality of material payment - a bar of pure gold. Incredible as it may seem, I have actually sold a number of these pictorial immaterial states.

So much could be said about my adventure in the immaterial and the void that the result would be an overly extended pause while steeped in the present elaboration of a written painting.

Painting no longer appeared to me to be functionally related to the gaze, since during the blue monochrome period of 1957 I became aware of what I called the pictorial sensibility. This pictorial sensibility exists beyond our being and yet belongs in our sphere. We hold no right of possession over life itself. It is only by the intermediary of our taking possession of sensibility that we are able to purchase life. Sensibility enables us to pursue life to the level of its base material manifestations, in the exchange and barter that are the universe of space, the immense totality of nature.

Imagination is the vehicle of sensibility!

Transported by (effective) imagination we attain life, that very life which is absolute art itself.

Absolute art, what mortal men call with a sensation of vertigo the summum of art, materializes instantaneously. It makes its appearance in the tangible world, even as I remain at a geometrically fixed point, in the wake of extraordinary volumetric displacements with a static and vertiginous speed.

The explanation of the conditions that led me to pictorial sensibility, is to be found in the intrinsic power of the monochromes of my blue period of 1957. This period of blue monochromes was the fruit of my quest for the indefinable in painting which Delacroix the master could already intimate in his time.

From 1956 to 1946, my monochrome experiments, tried with various other colors than blue, never allowed me to lose sight of the fundamental truth of our time - namely that form, henceforth, would no longer be a simple linear value, but rather a value of impregnation. Once, in 1946, while still an adolescent, I was to sign my name on the other side of the sky during a fantastic "realistico-imaginary" journey. That day, as I lay stretched upon the beach of Nice, I began to feel hatred for birds which flew back and forth across my blue, cloudless sky, because they tried to bore holes in my greatest and most beautiful work.

Birds must be eliminated.

Thus, we humans will have acquired the right to evolve in full liberty without any physical and spiritual constraint.

Neither missiles nor rockets nor sputniks will render man the "conquistador" of space.

Those means derive only from the phantom of today's scientists who still live in the romantic and sentimental spirit of the XIX century.

Man will only be able to take possession of space through the terrifying forces, the ones imprinted with peace and sensibility. He will be able to conquer space - truly his greatest desire - only after having realized the impregnation of space by his own sensibility. His sensibility can even read into the memory of nature, be it of the past, of the present, and of the future!

It is our true extra-dimensional capacity for action!

If proofs, precedents or predecessors are needed, let me then cite Dante, who in the Divine Comedy, described with absolute precision what no traveler of his time could reasonably have discovered, the invisible constellation of the Northern Hemisphere known as the Southern Cross;

Jonathan Swift, in his Voyage to Laputa, gave the distances and periods of rotation of two satellites of Mars though they were unknown at the time;

When American astronomer, Asoph Hall, discovered them in 1877, he realized that his measurements were the same as those of Swift. Seized by panic, he named them Phobos and Deimos, Fear and Terror! With these two words - Fear and Terror - I find myself before you in the year 1946, ready to dive into the void.

Long Live the Immaterial

And now,

Thank you for your kind attention.