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Ceiling Fans

An art-world couple put up an unusual installation.

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Photo Credit: Thomas Loof

Howard Read, co-owner of Chelsea gallery Cheim & Read, and his wife, Katia, used to live in the kind of megaloft art dealers tend to favor, with enormous swaths of canvas-friendly white space. So when they were in the market for a new place, “the last thing we were looking for was a Federal-style townhouse,” says Howard. “The broker called about it, and we said, ‘Oh, no, that’s a dollhouse. We need something with some kind of scale.’ ” But they were taken with an 1827 “wreck” in the West Village, which they’ve meticulously restored—and in the case of this drawing room, radically altered.

One night, the Austrian artist Otto Zitko— who was in town preparing a show at Cheim & Read—came over for dinner, and “we had this idea to commission one of his wall drawings for the house,” says Howard. But Zitko “thought the walls were too busy and full of architectural whatnot: doorways or fireplaces or moldings. Then he looked up at the ceiling. We were kind of taken aback.” After considering it for a few minutes, they said, “Okay, why not?”

Zitko returned to the house, put on some Wagner CDs, and completed the oil-stick drawing in a day. “We were thrilled,” Howard says. People can see the ceiling from the street, and Katia says she has overheard a wide range of commentary. Some discerning passersby know it’s a Zitko. Others simply suspect a bunch of kids have been up to no good.

(1) The fireplace
Although the house was in total shambles, there were still treasures to recover, like the original blue-and-white tiles and the unusual narrow finger bricks that surround the fireplace.

(2) The windows
Like the rest of the room, they’ve been completely restored, but with the original 1820s glass intact.

(3) The non-ceiling art
The two bronze sculptures that flank the fireplace are by Louise Bourgeois, as is the drawing over the mantel—“a birthday present she gave to me and Katia years ago.”

The photograph between the windows is by David McDermott and Peter McGough.

The black-and-white flower painting is by Donald Baechler, and the multicolor canvas is by Juan Uslé.

(4) The furniture
The two red chairs are by Saarinen, and the couch is Empire. The furniture is in flux, however. “The couch will probably stay, but the rest of the room is not resolved,” says Howard.

The coffee table is fifties German from Kimcherova on West 25th Street.


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