Last month, American art lost a great benefactor. Stanley Bard was the manager and part-owner of New York’s Chelsea Hotel, the most productive artist’s colony that never called itself one. Stanley was 82.
Over the years, the Chelsea hosted scores of famous writers, musicians, visual artists, and film people, including; Tennessee Williams, Allen Ginsberg, Dylan Thomas, Arthur Miller, Derek Walcott, Gore Vidal, Mary McCarthy, Thomas Wolfe, Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Joni Mitchell, Tom Waits, Patti Smith, Gil Scott-Heron, Sid Vicious, Dee Dee Ramone, Larry Rivers, Willem de Kooning, Jackson Pollock, Pablo Picasso, Julian Schnabel, Stanley Kubrick, Dennis Hopper, Milos Foreman, and Jane Fonda to name a few.
They all benefited from Stanley’s willingness to let struggling artists call the Chelsea their home.
People tend to characterize Mr. Bard as a saint. That’s half right. In my book This Ain’t No Holiday Inn, we see Stanley bend over backwards to rescue stray artists, sacrifice profit for art, and nurture fledgling talent. Sometimes he overlooked a missing rent payment. Sometimes he accepted artwork in lieu of rent.
But we also see the steel fists beneath Stanley’s velvet gloves. If he felt an artist went too long without paying rent or producing decent work, Dr. Hyde emerged. Stanley hounded deadbeats, calling them early in the morning or tailing them through the lobby as they ducked into elevators or tried to sneak back to their rooms.
His patience had a time limit. Artists staying at the Chelsea had five years to become a success. After that, Stanley would either evict them or make life so unpleasant they would evict themselves.
Through it all, Bard kept money flowing in. When the economy was bad, unproductive artists were kicked out of the lower floors and replaced with drug dealers, pimps, and hookers who always paid on time. When the economy was strong, Stanley kicked the criminals out and gave the lower floors back to the artists. This fluctuation produced an unintended consequence: artists and street criminals mixing, each group informing the other.
Since Bard was treacherously deposed, no one has been able to keep the Chelsea profitable. I call it the Curse of the Chelsea. The Chelsea needed Stanley. Art needed Stanley.
I liken Bard to the Borgias, enthusiastic patrons who helped fund the Italian Renaissance. They could tolerate a little occasional treachery. So could Stanley Bard.
Rest in peace, Stanley. You did it your way.
The following is an eviction letter:
(Apologies for the grainy image – the letter reads: “I have given you all of the time I am going to. I expect both of you together down in my office to discuss the time needed to vacate your room at the Chelsea. I mean now.”