Getting off the subway at Times Square is a baffling and overwhelming experience.
The giant LED billboard of Miley Cyrus, the flashing Red Lobster and Sketchers stores greet you like a really bad mashup of Vegas, Ohio and Disneyland. No wonder most New Yorkers avoid the area altogether. Sadly, with so many hotels in the vicinity, this is also many visitors' first impression of the city.
But the most recent addition to the Times Square hospitality scene -- the Distrikt Hotel -- is giving guests the opportunity to see Manhattan through the eyes of an insider. Specifically, the eyes of Brooklyn-based artist Chris Rubino.
Using over 10,000 photographs taken throughout the city, Rubino, in collaboration with Otte Architecture, the firm responsible for the design and general concept of the hotel, created 10 collages, one for each main district of Manhattan (the districts were selected by polling New Yorkers -- with some of the smaller areas like Koreatown and Little Italy recognized with hand-carved inscriptions in the elevator). Ascending from the greedy clutch of the Financial District on the first floor "uptown" to Harlem on floor 31 ("If you're smart, you'll request to stay in Harlem," says Rubino), each district gets three floors.
Rubino, who has lived in New York for more than 13 years, was excited about the opportunity to pay tribute to the unique character of each neighborhood.
"I tried to find a consistent illustrative collage aesthetic that I could carry throughout the 31 floors while trying to capture a certain feeling in each," he said.
All the iconic landmarks are there, of course, from The Flatiron Building to the Guggenheim, but he has also included more subtle things that most people (probably not even New Yorkers) would notice: "It was really a matter of showing that the light posts are different in Chinatown than they are in the Upper East Side," says Rubino.
The collages themselves -- a montage of photographs, original sketches and watercolor -- capture the energy of the neighborhoods they represent, from the bustle of SoHo to the grittiness of the Lower East Side.
"One of the beautiful things about New York is that you can be walking down any single avenue for an hour and feel like you’ve visited five different cities," says Rubino. "I know people say New York City has become homogenized, and of course it's cleaned up now, but I still have no problem feeling which part I’m in."
Rubino was introduced to the project when he was selling jars full of New York -- dirt from Central Park, water from the East River -- in a faux tourist booth and happened to meet the guys from Otte Architecture.
For Rubino, whose portfolio includes everything from limited edition T-shirts and Urban Outfitter dishwear to Jay-Z and Sundance Film Festival posters, the Distrikt is his second endeavor in the world of hospitality. Last year he created paintings for the Ace Hotel (you know -- that building that houses the Breslin).
Rubino says that he loves the platform because his work can be enjoyed ("hopefully," he qualifies modestly) by people who might not otherwise see it if it were hanging in a gallery or a museum. "I love how transitory hotels are by nature and the constantly changing cast of people," he says.
Then he adds: "Andre Balazs, feel free to call me!"