While many artists put great amounts of thought and often chose their working environments to get quietly off the grid, Michael Massaia’s choice of inspired location for his countless hours of time spent for more than a decade, ending in 2017, is most intriguing and illuminating. We and history are all the beneficiaries; the visual record for his time spent are two important and hauntingly beautiful portfolios of work that have never been presented before. Unparalleled in conception and execution, the unique handmade silver gelatin contact prints are variously: split-toned in sepia and selenium. Michael has lovingly captured for posterity the magnificent large public spaces of the ballrooms, stairways, lobbies and long corridors with spandrels of cathedral-style ceiling murals. He also lavished meticulous attention on the timeless
Art Deco details of its elevators, coat checks, light fixtures and the more intimate spaces that have been unchanged and emblematic of the Waldorf Astoria’s history since opening in 1931. Some of the first photographs Michael made in the Waldorf, uncharacteristically depicted people and were done handheld; made only with the sparse illumination of a computer screen or the small table lamps in the intimate lounges and lobbies. His addition of hand sanded glass diffusion filters completes the pictorial, atmospheric beauty of these images. The later images were made with Michael’s portable view camera mounted to a solid tripod and Michael’s special ‘cloak of invisibility’. One of the most memorable and invigorating times ever spent in NYC was in accompanying him on a night that a few of these studies were made.
Well into to the 21st Century the Waldorf stood as a timeless, storied and landmarked Art Deco hotel perennially attracting an equally storied and legendary roster of luminaries among its guests and longtime residents. Presidents [every US President from Hoover to Obama], royals from around the world, musicians, artists, screen stars, and cultural icons were drawn by its famously welcoming staff, Art Deco laden grand halls, lobbies, events and performances in the grand ballrooms, the luckiest retiring afterwards to one of the palatial suites. A sign in the hotel spoke volumes about the Waldorf, and appropriately, about its compelling photographer: “The difficult we will handle well. The impossible will take a few minutes”.
The more one knows the artist Michael Massaia, the more unusual a place the Waldorf might seem to be to spend his long, sleep deprived early morning hours. That the palace of the legendary became the intimate refuge that nurtured and spurred his fertile imagination is a fabulous artistic happenstance.
Photographs help us appreciate things that once appeared as commonplace, ever-present and that we fully expect will always exist. It’s through these photographs that we begin to understand the loss of special places like the Waldorf. Day after day, in ritual and exemplary form, and seemingly for all of time, the hotel welcomed guests ordinary and exalted, to its elegant intimate spaces, the palatial suites, the iconic public ballrooms, stairways, lobbies and hallowed corridors. More immeasurable is the loss of the timeless muse the Waldorf has been for all who’ve visited, even for just a few hours, beginning in 1931 and now “Ending”.
The Waldorf Astoria as depicted in Michael’s photographs are now found only in his portfolios taken prior to the hotel’s sale in 2017. In the name of progress, the new owners are taking what they believe the Waldorf was, distilling the Art Deco aesthetic and interior details, attempting to morph this classic timeless hotel into the new 21st Century ideal, mostly as reimagined modern ultra-luxury condominiums with a few rooms remaining to accommodate a small boutique hotel still called “The Waldorf Astoria”.
“The Waldorf Astoria was a strange and calming place that seemed to exist in its own world, not affected or guided by what was happening outside its doors. These images turned out to be a long goodbye to a time and place that will probably never return to New York City again”.
Gallery Opening Reception April 13, 2023, 7 pm
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