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Review: The Chelsea Years and Doll Show 

Photographs of the Chelsea Hotel by Linda Troeller and a group gallery of the dolls

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The poet Dylan Thomas died there after downing 18 shots of Old Grand-Dad, but that only burnished its mythic status. A legendary oasis of the creative class, the Chelsea Hotel's grand dilapidation and accommodating manager sheltered legions of bohemians, from William S. Burroughs, Patti Smith and Sid Vicious to the late composer Virgil Thomson and playwright Arthur Miller, who individually spent weeks, months or lifetimes there. In 2011, new owners closed large portions of the hotel for renovations. Some long-term tenants remain, but much has changed. Photographer and former tenant Linda Troeller's photos of the Chelsea in its heyday reveal some unexpected views like the Victorian grandeur of the Thomson's apartment that postmodern artist Philip Taaffe and his family now occupy, but kept as Thomson left it. Seedy elegance becomes environmental artist Christo, pictured with his late partner Jeanne-Claude and the hotel's legendary former manager Stanley Bard. Many of the images reflect Troeller's signature voyeuristic quality of scenes glimpsed in passing.

The Chelsea always struck me as a kind of giant dollhouse where the famous-but-not-rich lived in low-budget comfort, so the doll show at Byrdie's Gallery seemed like a plausible counterpoint. But opening night provided a surprising look at a little-known subculture: underground doll makers. Like the rail-riding folk known as "travelers," the artists and their friends who packed the opening often evoked characters from vintage fiction. While the works on view are a mixed bag, most are fun, and some — like an oversized lightning bug welded from vintage machine parts by Andre LaSalle — are impressive. Other works with a sculptural bent include Al Benkin's dollhouse assemblage, among others ranging in style from modernism to the macabre. More classic dolls include exotic charmers by Jessica Ruby Radcliffe, works evocative of Marie Laveau's New Orleans, when it was the occult capital of North America.


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