How Lady Gaga Ended Up With Arik Levy's Sculptures in Her 'American Horror Story: Hotel' Lair
"The biggest galleries don’t see the opportunity in TV," says show writer Ned Martel, who found the Israeli sculptor's mirrored works at DTLA's Please Do Not Enter.
By the time Arik Levy’s curvaceous, mirrored sculptures appear in The Countess’ (Lady Gaga) hotel suite lair on the premiere of FX’s American Horror Story: Hotel, we already know that the “Monster” singer’s character is a bloodfeasting, well, monster that devours any and all guests daring to stay in the Hotel Cortez’ room 64. What we don’t know until this moment is that she’s a connoisseur of art, sharing the same taste as the wealthy fashion designer Will Drake, who has just purchased the hotel, putting the ghouls and ghosts that haunt the place at risk of eviction.
During their introduction, Drake recognizes a curvilinear sculpture on a pedestal.
“Yes,” says the Countess, “It’s an Arik Levy, and it doesn’t come with the building.”
She then further intrigues Drake by mentioning that she owns a work by legendary artist James Turrell. Gaga herself is no stranger to fine art, having played a piano built by contemporary artist Terence Koh at the Grammys in 2010, hired Jeff Koons to create her ARTPOP album cover in 2013, and worked with Marina Abramovic on a series of peculiar videos.
THR spoke with Levy, an Israeli-born, Paris-based artist, by phone the day after the premiere. The show hasn’t made it to TV yet in France, so Levy only has seen clips and pictures, but he is starting to wrap his head around the enormity of having his name dropped by Gaga on the FX hit. “It was interesting to see myself at a distance of 10,000 kilometers,” Levy said from his Paris studio.
Levy points out that it’s striking not just to see his work on American TV, but also to see it in a setting outside a gallery altogether. “Many times, collectors are buying the work in the gallery, but I never get to see the work in their house,” he said. “I see some, but not many, so when I saw the pieces on the set, suddenly I saw myself in a place that I’ve never been, with people I don’t know. It gives the work another character, a different sound, and it dresses up, because of the reflection. The characters, the set, the ambience, the light were all reflected.”
As for his polished work’s role in the Countess’s bloodletting, Levy was interested to see his work in a new context. “Mirrors have a magical part in any vampire films or stories,” he said, “that you look into a certain moment, and you can either see or not see. It is the truthful moment.”
"RockStone" by Arik Levy, courtesy of Please Do Not Enter
American Horror Story staff writer Ned Martel, who along with fellow staff writer John Gray wrote the pieces into Gaga’s domestic decor, said the singer “took it very seriously, but not in a self-serious way.” He added that the work’s mirrored quality provided just the right touch of horror for the AHS set. “You’re entered into this world, because she has this environment that people want. You see what happens to the people that get lured in. Plus, the works are monumental, one piece is eight feet tall — it makes a big sculptural statement. Levy’s works balance the old and the new, which is fitting, because The Countess has lived for 100 years, and she is as high-minded now as she was in her youth.”
Four works in total are featured on the episode, including “RockStone,” which is part of a series of mirror-polished stainless steel works, and “Solid Liquid,” a blown glass reflective sculpture. Each of the four pieces were included in Intimate Formations, an exhibition Levy mounted at Downtown art gallery Please Do Not Enter over the summer with similar sculptures and neon works, as well as several wall-mounted paintings and prints.
It was there where AHS staff writer Martel and Gray first spied the Levy sculptures. AHS creator Ryan Murphy had tasked the two writers with bringing some Downtown Los Angeles art onto the show, which is set in an Art Deco hotel that very much resembles the Overlook Hotel from Stanley Kubrick’s classic supernatural thriller, The Shining. (Watch the video below for a behind-the-scenes look at how Levy's work became part of the show.)
“John and I have been on a yearlong quest from when Ryan asked us about including art where Lady Gaga lived,” said Martel, who oversaw art critics in his past job as the editor of the Washington Post style section. “The décor was going to be from a Deco moment from 100 years ago, but we wanted the art to brighten up the space, reflecting light and sending out light. The fact that Will Drake is a fashion designer shows the very real current migration of the creative class moving from New York to L.A. We wanted the art that is in The Countess’ penthouse to reveal the cutting edge. We went to the biggest galleries, museums, auction houses, and we even thought about contacting our collector friends. We worked closely with the production designers, and we decided as a group that what was happening in the culture inspired us to include work that had light involved. Doug Aitken uses that kind of quality, you see it in Glenn Ligon’s work, and Anish Kapoor’s — huge names in contemporary art are expressing themselves in these kinds of avenues.”
But Martel ran into resistance when trying to source work from bigger galleries, which eventually led them to using work by Levy, a compromise that worked out better than they could have imagined. "The biggest galleries don’t see the opportunity in TV,” said Martel. “They are interested in protecting their artists, their clientele, and fostering their exclusive reputations. It’s a bit absurd. So John and I started started going to gallery openings Downtown, and looking at smaller galleries. Something smaller will be open to national exposure. But then we said, ‘Let’s just get what we want,’ and we were able to find this work. It tells the story better than any of our [original] ideas."
Please Do Not Enter has a reputation for off-site projects, including French artist Vincent Lamouroux’s “Projection,” in which the artist whitewashed the Silver Lake hotel known as the Bates Motel (for its Hitchcockian appearance) with ecologically-safe limewash.
“One goal that we always had in mind was to bring art to people that never go to museums or galleries,” says Nicolas Libert, who co-owns the gallery with Emmanuel Renoird. “It’s hard to go into a gallery; people feel really shy. It’s a closed small world. Why does this work with Arik’s work? Arik is focusing on the interaction between the viewer and the piece. He likes people to interact with the pieces. Having interactions between the screen, and even the characters in the show, it was serving that.”
Levy hopes that his work has more impact than the fleeting moment of screentime. “Of course, it’s very special. But this feeling that I have will only be complete when I meet with [Gaga],” he says, half-jokingly. “It’s an intimate moment; it’s not just another part of the set. The chair or the table is just another part of the set, but my piece is part of her refection, it’s something that she’ll take home with herself.”