The Art of The Lexington

The Lexington New York City comes to life with stories from its past: during their marriage, Marilyn Monroe and Joe DiMaggio lived in a suite on the 18th floor. Dorothy Lamour and Arthur Godfrey have also been guests. Built in 1929, the hotel saw the height of the Jazz Age, and housed the Playboy Club in the 1980s.

But with its recent renovation and unveiling set to be completed this week, the hotel’s artwork needed an update that would bring it into the present while honoring its history. Enter curator and publisher Paige Powell. “I wanted to take it to a different place,” she says. “With references to the smoke-and-jazz era, the music, the way people dressed, and at the same time take us to 2013.”

Powell knows a fair amount about New York’s own art history. Raised in Portland, Oregon, she moved to the city in 1980 and immediately got a job as an associate publisher at Interview, where she worked closely with Andy Warhol. The two became close friends, and Powell became immersed as anyone can be in the 1980s New York art scene (even dating Jean-Michel Basquiat).

So, to fill the 725-room hotel with original art, she at first turned to her extensive contacts, including Cuban artist Ruben Toledo and Alba Clemente, wife of Francesco. “I’ve known them since the ’80s,” explains Powell. “They came on as a favor to me.”

Powell wanted to incorporate younger artists too, so she and the hotel’s designer David Ashen “sleuthed” out works at the School of Visual Art and Harlem School of the Arts as well as ARTHOUSE at Brooklyn Flea Market. Among the couple dozen they recruited was Alex Morel, a sophomore at SVA, who made colorful drip-wax portraits of Joe DiMaggio and Marilyn Monroe for their former apartment, the new design of which is inspired by them.

For Powell, though, the current occupants are her priority. “There are so many five-star hotels with just awful, banal art,” she bemoans. “The guest deserves to have something better than that, and something that they are not expecting.” And indeed, it feels like in every corner, in every room, and every hallowed hall, there’s an artwork that captures your attention, then takes you away.