Hudson, NY 2015 winter. I moved into the Princess Beatrix House, owned by Tanja Grunert and Klemens Gasser. The ice so thick on their un-ploughed drive it’s almost impossible for the tiny Mexican movers from sunny California to negotiate the heavier items from the pantechnicon to the house. They wear my Knole sofa like a huge hat. It is bitterly cold yet these foolhardy boys brave the day dressed only in thin, grubby tee shirts and flimsy, cheap sneakers, skidding up and down the icy drive. They are totally unprepared for the winter delivery.
Before I arrived in Hudson, NY I had never heard of Eric Galloway, Eleanor Ambos, Tim Dunleavy, Warren Street, Modern Farmer, Anne Marie Gardner, the Bonfiglio bakery… or the slew of slippery realtors wheeling and dealing all over town.
I didn’t know the Basilica or Helsinki or Etsy. I didn’t know the darker side of hipster culture, the craving of desperate, lonely females and the clawing misery of gay men trapped upstate in search of a better, freer life.
The only person I knew ahead of my 9 months in Hudson was Marina Abramovic. And it was she who piqued my interest the very first time my friend Tom Taylor showed me the building Marina had acquired, the building Rem Koolhas had been charged with transforming into a ‘laboratory devoted to performance art’ funded by 12 million crowd sourced dollars.
The Old Tennis Court on the corner of North 7th Street and Columbia Street in Hudson, NY owned by Marina Abramovic, stands forlorn, peeling and abandoned. The windows boarded, trash blown under the grand portico. It waits, warehoused like so many building in Hudson, for it’s owner to come renovate, repair or make good the myth of Marina Abramovic transforming this imposing building into her performance art institute.
Tom Taylor, stopped his beaten truck outside the building. After several weeks of heavy snow and bitterly cold nights a wall of ice stood between us and the building. He was excited to show me, telling a story I would hear many, many times from equally excited local people.
Upstate New York . Cheap, fertile land… derelict 18th and 19th century houses desperate for attention. Abandoned red brick factories. The promise of space and sanctuary.
My first visit to Woodstock, with cabaret star Lady Rizo three Christmases ago, my first real taste of life beyond NYC. The thick white, blindingly white snow, the mountains, rivers and forests a welcome respite from 12 years of endless summer in Southern California.
I returned the following winter to the same charming stone house and started looking for a home to buy. Property prices were very low. As usual I was tempted by obscure, isolated locations but did not give in to that melancholic fantasy.
It was an invitation from Tom Taylor to Eleanor Ambos’s huge Victorian pile in Philmont that finally ignited my passion. I’d met him on some dating app in the city when I spent that mad winter in the Captains House in Brooklyn. After months of asking me to visit I finally bundled me and the dogs into the rental car and headed north.
Tom is the right hand man and beneficiary of Eleanor Ambos’s valuable real estate portfolio. Her notable possessions: the Pocket Book factory in Hudson and The Metropolitan Building on Long Island.
“It is as if she doesn’t hear the same music that everyone else is hearing,” says director Andrew Michael Ellis of 89-year-old Eleanor Ambos. In his documentary short Ellis follows the eccentric aesthete as she loses her eyesight to macular degeneration.
Eleanor bought the dilapidated Metropolitan Building on Long Island in 1980 as a cheap alternative to the area’s warehouses to store her vast and growing collection of salvaged antiques. The octogenarian owner caught Ellis’ eye while he was shooting there. “She had no intention of being a subject in a film at first, but eventually I became her friend, therapist, practically her lover. It was impossible to be a fly on the wall.”
The month I met her she had bought a 72,000 square foot mid century modern school in Claverack. The day I arrived to see it she was laying a delicate floral carpet in the hallway. “I like playing house.” she purred. And that, my dear friends, is what attracts people to her and repels people from her. I introduce her to the thin lipped owners of the Gilded Owl in Hudson, a most pretentious ‘gallery’ curated by interior fluffer Andy Goldsworthy and down and dirty art trader Elizabeth Moore.
THE GILDED OWL is an online journal exploring craftsmanship in modern and contemporary design, fine art, fashion, and music. Inspired by authenticity, ingenuity, and above all, quality, Andy and Elizabeth Moore continually investigate subjects of fascination and enlighten their readers as to what makes the beautiful beautiful.
And if that description isn’t enough to make you puke… Elizabeth, Andy and I visited an Ambos property (they were both eager to see) namely the magical Summit Mill in Philmont with Eleanor and Tom. After the visit Andy and Elizabeth couldn’t wait to kick the snow off their moon boots and rip into Eleanor’s aesthetic, her hoarding and wonder how other people could find her so fascinating.
Hudson has a rich history of despair. The ghosts of a thousand hookers, gamblers and dismembered whales join those native American souls murdered here for their land. Something very bad happened in Hudson, something catastrophic… something that has scarred its psyche, blighted the land and poisoned the air. Those who spend a weekend in Hudson seldom notice it, those who live there become irradiated… toxic.
Resentment and vitriol. The Hudson cancer… is much reserved for one successful Hudson businessman: Eric Galloway.
I visit Hudson only occasionally. I walk Warren Street, much of it owned, to the chagrin of those impoverished white people who live there, by the stately Eric Galloway and his billionaire boyfriend Henry Van Ameringen.
At the very heart of the contempt for these acquisitive gentleman is racism. Eric Galloway is an angular, elegant black man and the despair white people have (who are not benefiting from his patronage) often descends into barely concealed racism.
‘Educated’ white folk who think they know better about architecture, who keep tabs on each purchase Galloway and Van Ameringen make all over the world. Tanja Grunert and others could barely contain themselves when Galloway bought much loved and recently deceased (owner of the fanciful store Rural Residence) Tim Dunlevey’s iconic Union Street home.
“That disgusting man bought Tim’s house.” She said.
Yet, who was Tim’s ex boyfriend meant to sell? The poor white people who couldn’t afford it? Or, the contentious black man who could?
This past year Hudson’s ‘revival’ (one of so many) has continued with renewed vigor. The expensive, beautifully designed River Town Lodge opened at the top of Warren Street. Farmer’s restaurant on Front Street spared no expense on its warm and elegant interior, bravely situated in a less salubrious part of Hudson and lastly the airy bar Or on 3rd and Union Street enjoys enormous success in a beautifully renovated 1930’s garage. All quality establishments, some owned by Eric and Henry.
These small businesses are the future of Hudson. Other larger businesses are sniffing around. Soho House are discussing the possibility of opening in Eleanor Ambos’s Pocketbook Factory. A whirl of invesment and optimism… yet, The Old Tennis Courts on the corner of North 7th Street and Columbia Street in Hudson, NY owned by Marina Abramovic remains forlorn and empty.
As painful as it is, it’s time for everyone in Hudson, NY to accept the truth: Marina Abramovic isn’t coming.