In Al’s Grand Hotel, a sign above the concierge’s desk reads:
“Same thing every day. They come & go. The grand hotel-Nothing ever happens…”
It’s the last line from the 1932 film, Grand Hotel, which partially inspired Allen Ruppersberg to launch his short-lived yet often cited work of Los Angeles Conceptual art in 1971. Al’s Grand Hotel situated experiential art within the field of commerce and cast viewers as consumers. Restaged this weekend with the help of Ruppersberg, Frieze Projects curator Cecilia Alemani and exhibition space and publisher Public Fiction, Al’s Grand Hotel (1971/2014) places a working hotel in the middle of an art fair.
In the movie, the last line is played for laughs; plenty happened. A “Grand Hotel theme” is now screen-writing shorthand for a story that centers on a large busy place, with characters whose lives run parallel and overlap. You could easily set such a movie at an art fair, and the last line would play just as aptly: “the same thing everyday…they come and goes… nothing ever happens…” Some years those words would read as joke. According to reports, this year, they would not.
Al’s Grand Hotel succeeds in breaking the monotony of booth-after-booth. Enclosed and free-standing, it is an autonomous happening amidst the routine of Frieze. Large, wallpaper-like black & white photos of the original hotel’s interior and exterior adorn the walls of the lobby and the two available rooms are named the “Bridal Suite” and the “Jesus Room,” after two of the original six. The furnishings are rented from local prop houses, and you can see the differences between the rooms you’re in and the rooms in the photographs. This iteration is more reimagining than it is a recreation. Lauren Mackler, the Founder of Public Fiction, describes the process of make the project as akin to “writing a score.”
For the few guests who stay overnight, a television in both rooms provides art/entertainment, playing a looped video on each channel– a mix of L.A. and hotel-centric Hollywood fare, like The Maltese Falcon (1941) or Grand Hotel, along with contemporary video works from Kerry Tribe, Frances Stark, Benjamin Nuel, and others. They get to slumber in bizarrely intimate proximity to a vast array of art works, and awake to the sound of their frenzied exchange.
But while buying art happens in an instant, living with it is the real story. Collectors become privy to dimensions of a work one doesn’t get from a museum or gallery visit. They notice new things over time, which can deepen their relationship with the work. In this way, all objects can be viewed as time-based mediums that evolve at the pace of life. Al’s Grand Hotel, then and now, allows for a temporary focusing of the same kind, like the duration of a film.