By Terry Trucco
You know summer’s here when hotels start rolling out outsize outdoor sculptures, the warm-weather equivalent of the holiday tree. A big dog and a big boy on view all summer offer a taste of art and amusement, not to mention countless photo ops, in midtown and downtown.
Standing guard in the courtyard at the Palace Hotel is Doggy John XXL, a US debut by French artist Julien Marinetti. The gigantic French bulldog weighs 1,500 lbs., stands eight feet tall and boasts a wildly colorful coat, an Abstract Expressionist/Pop/graffiti mash-up that’s a testimony to Marinetti’s days as a painter before he turned to sculpture in 2004 with the first Doggy John.
From his perch across from St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Big John reminded us of another Big Dog, namely Jeff Koon’s Puppy, the topiary West Highland terrier that loomed over the Rockefeller Center plaza a few years back. (Fans of big dogs can also visit Koons’ gigantor Balloon Dog on view on the roof garden at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.)
Like a true show dog, Doggy John has spawned generations, several with a taste for hotels.
In 2010, Doggy John XL, a massive, gold-coated sibling, welcomed guests at Paris’s Plaza Athenee. And the Big Dog isn’t the only pup at the Palace, where 15 miniature Doggy Johns, 15-inches tall and painted in myriad colors, sit at attention throughout the lobby until September. “You got a big back yard?” a Palace porter grinned when we asked if the dogs were for sale. The Big Dog can be yours for $500,000 and the pups are $10,000. Or you can order a Dogtail cocktail at the Palace’s Gilt bar – vodka, pomegranate juice, raspberry tea syrup and lemon juice on the rocks for $14.
Companion (Passing Through), the witty 16-foot-tall sculpture planted on the Standard Hotel plaza by KAWS, aka Brian Donnely, poses an intriguing question: why is the artist’s signature character, a cartoony creation with a big X on each gloved hand, covering his eyes? Is he shy? Scared? Playing hide-and-seek? Or is he averting his eyes from the Standard’s windows, notorious for their appeal to exhibitionist-minded guests?
Companion (Passing Through) is KAWS’s first outdoor sculpture, but the Jersey City native has a thick portfolio that embraces paintings, sculptures and product design, and a style, part graffiti, part cartooning, that blurs the line between fine art and mass marketing. Following a stint as an animator at Disney, he purposefully subverted images on billboards, bus shelters and phone booths before turning to designing limited edition vinyl toys. His product collaborations have ranged from Japanese fashion company Comme des Garcons to a limited edition bottle for Mexican beer maker Dos Equis.
Companion (Passing Through), like Doggy John, is a world traveler. Following the sculpture’s debut in Hongkong at Harbor City, Companion visited the Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum in Ridgefield, Connecticut, before arriving at the Standard. If you stop by, be sure to take a photo and tweet it — #KAWS @Standard. Then visit the hotel’s Web site and see if your picture made the cut. And if you crave a souvenir, the hotel shop sells a signed, limited edition KAWS vinyl pillow, reminiscent of the Rolling Stones “Sticky Fingers” logo, for $60.