Private Views: A High-Rise Panorama of ManhattanAndi Schmied; edited by Irena Lehkoživová and Barbora Špičáková
VI PER Gallery, 2021
Hardcover | 9-1/4 x 12-1/2 inches | 228 pages | 165 illustrations | English | ISBN: 978-8027091256 | 87€
All of us want to see Manhattan from above, but very few can do it from their own living room. Private Views is here to satisfy our incessant curiosity about a hidden elite world that we can only observe from outside, or occasionally, from an overpriced viewing point crowded with tourists.
While posing as an apartment-hunting Hungarian billionaire, Andi Schmied accessed and documented Manhattan’s most exclusive high-rise properties. For the duration of the project, she inhabited a fictional persona: Gabriella, a mother of one whose husband is an antique dealer. Dressing as Gabriella and acting as Gabriella, she prepared for the family’s upcoming move to Manhattan.
Complemented by essays, and fragments of the real estate conversations, the book guides its readers through the sunset from the Trump Tower and dawn over Central Park from the private ballroom of the tallest residential tower on the planet, showcasing samples of the world’s most luxurious materials, such as the Calacatta Tucci marble used in bathrooms overlooking the Empire State Building.
Andi Schmied is a visual artist and architect based in Budapest, Hungary. The focus of her installations, videos, and printed work is the architectural framing of social space. She uncovers unexpected human behaviors and urban anomalies—places that, for one reason or another, do not follow conventional logic, yet remain part of our cityscape.
Private Views proves that context is everything. The presentation of panoramic views from inside 25 residential buildings in Manhattan — many of them lining what's famously known as "Billionaires' Row" along the south end of Central Park — would be a special thing, in and of itself. But knowing that architect and artist Andi Schmied managed to take the photos by assuming the fictional identity of a Hungarian billionaire able to pay, as the cover indicates, $75,000 a month for an apartment ... well, that makes it extraordinary. This hook, no doubt an audacious feat on the part of Schmied, makes the book hard to resist. I've been looking forward to the publication ever since learning about the project in December, when it was named the recipient of a Graham Foundation grant. It does not disappoint.
To accentuate the context of a fictional Hungarian apartment-shopping inside the newest, richest, and architecturally boldest apartment buildings in Manhattan, the book starts with Irena Lehkoživová and Barbora Špičáková of VI PER Gallery (the editors and publisher of the book) interviewing Andi Schmied and Gabriella Schmied. Gabriella is the fictional persona adopted by Andi in two trips to New York: during an artist residency in 2016 and on a one-week stay in early 2020, before the pandemic took hold. The second trip was extremely important to the project, given that some of the most notable residential towers (53W53 by Jean Nouvel, SHoP Architects' 111 West 57th Street, Central Park Tower by AS+GG, Robert A. M. Stern's 220 Central Park South) were barely poking from the ground four years earlier.
Andi and Gabriella clearly speak differently in the interview, which says to me that even though they are physically the same person (Gabriella is Andi's middle name, it should be noted, something that made the apartment visits easier when it came to practical issues like proving Gabriella's identity with Andi's passport), the act of making Private Views was akin to performance art. Andi inhabited a character to its fullest, yet unknowingly to the other "participants" — the real estate agents — at the time. Although I doubt I could pull off something even remotely like this, the interview does convey how establishing Gabriella's fictional identity and setting up the appointments beforehand took care of most of the work for Andi: the brokers treated her like Gabriella because that's who they thought they were talking with and hopefully gaining a commission from.
Following the interview are the photographs from the visits to the 25 buildings, ordered geographically from Lower Manhattan to Billionaires' Row. All of the photos are given captions that are keyed to other buildings in the book (as if these tall buildings exist for their residents to look at each other, not just the rest of the city) and most of them are overlaid with transcripts of Gabriella's chats with real estate agents, all of them anonymous. This last fact is important, since the loudest criticism of Schmied's book would probably come from Manhattan brokers, who might feel duped for unwittingly taking part in her project, or who occasionally come across as a bit shallow or even sexist (Schmied explores gender bias in the interview). For the most part, though, the agents are clearly there to sell Gabriella on a lifestyle as experienced through name-brand architects, extravagant amenities, high-end appliances and finishes, and views — ridiculous, amazing, cloud-hugging views.
Inserted among the 25 buildings on smaller sheets of paper at irregular intervals are contributions that draw attention to topics integral to luxury apartment buildings in Manhattan, ranging from zoning and slenderness to apartment staging and opulent materials. These cross-referenced texts add some much-needed context, particularly when it comes to the Billionaires' Row towers that cater to foreign money and which led Schmied to undertake Private Views. The "Perspectives" section that follows the buildings includes new essays by Sharon Zukin, Anthony Vidler, and Peter Noever, among others, as well as an old essay by the late Michael Sorkin, who refers to the buildings Gabriella ended up visiting as "vulgar." If Schmied's project documented in photos and banter with agents is a subtle commentary on Manhattan's real estate market, the essays are overt critiques of the mechanisms that have enabled this century's crop of luxury high-rises that cater to the super-rich — to the Gabriellas of the world, not the Andis.
Private Views can be purchased via the artist's website or from AbeBooks via the button above.