On Wednesday afternoon I met up with the artists Loney Abrams and Johnny Stanish—the creators and curators of the ongoing Hotel Art project, which stages and documents extremely temporary art shows in unorthodox spaces for the ultimate purpose of an online gallery—at a Dunkin’ Donuts on Beach 67th street in Far Rockaway, Queens. On the table when I arrived was a box of Dunkin’s signature Munchkin mini-donuts and an open-faced peanut butter and jelly sandwich covered with mini brass gears. The PB&J&M was the work of the artist Quintessa Matranga, who, along with Aude Pariset and Andrew Norman Wilson, comprise the lineup for the most recent Hotel Art project, “Overdraft,” which was about to go down, fleetingly, inside of a Bank of America ATM lobby just feet away from the Dunkin’. I figured I’d tag along for the install.
“It’s technically illegal,” Abrams told me as they prepared the show. “We’ve been planning this for a while and yesterday it hit us, are we going to go to jail? That thought entered our head.” As a means of preparation, the artists checked the bank’s fine print and found the usual stipulations: no pets, no sleeping, no trespassing, no entry if there is no banking. “But we will be banking,” Stanish clarified. The plan was for Stanish to use the ATM as Abrams set up the minimal show, the receipt to be photographed and used in the final online exhibition—with a few photoshopped modifications, namely a singed flame at the edge of the receipt. (In addition to functioning as an online gallery, Hotel Art could be seen as an act of net art in and of itself. “If no one can access this in real life, then all there is is the versions of it online, so anything we do with those images is part of the show,” Abrams said.)
Because of the space, the show provided itself with some practical limitations. “Originally one of the artists, Andrew Norman Wilson, wanted us to put a smoke bomb in the ATM, which I loved the idea, right, I think it’s a great idea,” Stanish, who has a shaved head and some minimal facial tattoos, said, “but at this point in my life, maybe if I had been like 18 or something it would be a different scenario, but right now… Great idea, but execution-wise, maybe if we had an unpaid intern we could do it,” he joked. (Wilson settled on an edited video shown on a Samsung tablet called Chase ATM emitting blue smoke, Bank of America ATM emitting red smoke, TD Bank ATM emitting green smoke / / / Invisibility-cloaked hand gestures in offshore financial center jungle. The title pretty much speaks for itself.)
Hotel Art has in the past set up shows at Airbnbs and hotels in New York ranging from the Cosmopolitan in TriBeCa to the more humble Bushwick Hotel. They have worked with a range of artists, some who have found success inside more traditional galleries (Brad Troemel, Bunny Rogers, and Bradford Kessler come to mind). Occasionally, shows happen without the IRL presence of the curators: Oliver Haidutschek staged and documented an exhibition at the New Grand Dynasty Hotel in Beijing and Débora Delmar did a one at Casa Maaud in Mexico City.
Back in Far Rockway, the Bank of America space was a standalone ATM deal: no lobby, no tellers, no security guard. By those standards, it was bigger, blanker, and more spacious than most: not a bad place to show some art. (“We went in because we use Bank of America to get some cash, and we were just like, ‘OK, this is a gallery with an ATM in it, we have to do a show here,’ ” Abrams said.) There was a surf shop next door that was maybe taking care of some off-season inventory. Whatever the case, there were a ton of surfboards on the sidewalk. As the Hotel Art crew entered the bank, Abrams hummed the Mission Impossible theme. Immediately, the duo got to work setting up.
Shadows provided by the high noon sun posed a documentation issue that Abrams and Stanish didn’t plan for—they had been lulled into light-related complacency by a long string of overcast winter days. “That’s OK, you know, that’s just part of it,” Stanish remarked. The setup was fast. Matranga’s sandwich went on a small table used to write out draft slips—she also had a couple drawings in the window. Wilson’s tablet video was on the ground, sharing floor space with two fleece, cotton, and rope “draftstoppers” (the kind made to shield the bottom of a door from a hard gust of wind) made by Pariset. They contained phrases like “at the service of your interiority” written with fabric paint.
As Abrams set up, Stanish used the ATM, leaving the receipt dangling out of the machine for documentation. Things were pretty low-key. At one point a delivery guy on a moped parked his ride outside and went in to use the ATM and Abrams took some photos of him. A few folks peered into the window (some were waiting for the bus), but overall things went off with no confrontations.
I rode back to Abrams and Stanish’s nearby Far Rockaway studio in their Mitsubishi Outlander, which just happened to be fully “wrapped” with a provocative anime design by the artist Jon Rafman. The wrap was created as part of a curatorial project of Abrams’s years ago wherein Rafman wanted to work in the medium of the car wrap, usually the province of energy drinks and rap music promotional campaigns. “Of course now we just have pictures of naked anime women” on their car, Abrams said.
Back at the studio, the two, exhilarated from the day’s events (“We didn’t think it would be so busy,” Stanish said), discussed the project as a whole, and the nature of art viewing in 2016. “I know that 98 percent of the art I see is online,” Abrams said. “It’s like, OK if most people are going to be seeing this as documentation anyway, do we really need to drop a few thousand dollars a month to have an IRL space, or do we just use the Internet and have these works live as documentation, which is just kind of being transparent about the nature of art viewing anyway.”
Abrams and Stanish told me about an aborted project with Débora Delmar that took place entirely at Spa Castle in Queens. Delmar gave the artists a very specific materials list, which included air fresheners and a shirt and tie. From there, things were very improvisational. “What if we put this air freshener under this waterfall,” Abrams said, as a way to explain the process. “At some point, I got totally naked and was covered in sushi from the sushi bar laying in the sauna. No idea, totally fucking around in Spa Castle.” To the other patrons of Spa Castle, none of this stuff particularly read as contemporary art. “People thought we were filming a rap video,” Stanish said.