By Terry Trucco
If you find yourself on West 44th Street, take a stroll through the lobby of the Sofitel New York. It’s a chicly retro space where you can plop on a sofa without brandishing a room key and chat with a friend or check your messages without being strong-armed into ordering a drink.
As a bonus, through October 21 the lobby once again doubles as an art gallery, displaying new paintings by Sonya Sklaroff, an urban landscape artist whose richly colored oils celebrate such iconic, if unexpected, emblems of city life as water towers, neighborhood streets and the muted hues and dueling umbrellas that accompany an impromptu summer shower.
Art shows are nothing new at Sofitel, which has displayed everything from black-and-white photos of 20th-century artists culled from the pages of Paris Match by Olivier Widmaier Picasso (yes, Grandpa Pablo was included) to soft-edge photos of beauties like Cindy Crawford and Uma Thurman by French photographer Giles Bensimon. As for Sklaroff, this is her third show at Sofitel, so she clearly understands the concept of a hotel doubling as a gallery.
“I like showing my work here,” she said at the opening night party, noting that unlike a gallery, where works appear on white walls in empty rooms, a hotel lobby replicates a home. “Collectors can see how a painting looks above the fireplace or over the sofa,” she said.
Or better yet, above a computer, like “Wonder Wheel from the Q,” a small, engaging rendering of Coney Island’s soaring landmark hanging in the business alcove adjoining the lobby.
Whether it is their New York subject matter or the warmth generated by a classic medium like oil paint, the 24 paintings on display seem more like permanent residents than guests checking in for a week or two. Perhaps that was why you saw more than a few visitors actually looking at the art, a rare sighting at an art opening with wine and excellent nibbles.
“I like the colors of the sky over the buildings,” mused a woman admiring “Night Light & Fire Escapes.” A guest at the hotel, she and her husband were in town from Washington, D.C. to hear a lecture at the Metropolitan Museum, and she said she liked seeing an art show in her hotel lobby. She liked the art, too. “I can relate to this more than the abstract stuff and could see this hanging that in our house.”
For pictures with instantly recognizable content, Sklaroff’s paintings flaunt slyly abstract moments, like the flash of red that makes you rethink a bicycle tire (or its connection to the red bookstore nearby) or the contrasts between light and dark in almost every work (she’s partial to painting skies). Seeing eye-catching shapes in everyday sights, she finds poetry in water towers instead of skyscrapers, fire escapes rather than bridges, and offers a fresh, vibrant look at familiar surroundings.
Or as thriller writer Harlan Coben puts it in the forward to her new monograph, “Sonya understands that there is something universal in the specific, that in painting the city she knows best, she ends up telling us something about our hometowns and more to the point, about us.”
Sonya Sklaroff, Sofitel New York, 45 West 44th Street, 212 354-8844. Extended through October 28. The show was was curated by G & O Art and the paintings can be seen at www.goartonline.com.