Dream Job :: Art Curator at Wythe Hotel

By Chanel Dror

When we think of “hotel artwork,” most of us can’t help but imagine mass-produced abstract prints in poor color choices, or large-scale, arbitrary stock photography (insert sad face). But at Brooklyn’s Wythe Hotel, that’s not nearly the case; instead, each and every piece of artwork you’ll see has been carefully and intentionally selected to bolster the room or hallway in which it resides… and since the building is a renovated factory from 1901, there’s no shortage of history and industrial inspiration. Of course, curated art collections aren’t born overnight, so when Kimia Ferdowsi Kline — the mastermind behind it all — landed on my radar, I knew she’d be the perfect subject for this month’s Dream Job installment. I sat down with the art curator and visual artist to talk making it in the art world, taking inspiration from your environment and balancing personal passions with work…

Photos by Belathée photography

Tell us about your job:

I’m the curator of the permanent art collection at Wythe Hotel. We have 70 rooms and plan to fill each of them with the original work of emerging and established artists. I get to visit talented artists in their studios, talk with them about their work, and decide what to hang.

I also help curate the rotating installations in our lobby, where we commission site-specific pieces every 6-8 weeks

Artwork pictured here is by Duke Riley

How long have you worked at Wythe?

I’ve been here nearly two years, but started helping with the artwork in January 2014.

What does a day-in-the-life of Kimia look like?

I split my weekdays between working at the Hotel and working in my own studio.

When I’m at the Hotel: I meet with artists and gallery directors about acquiring work, I run to Chelsea to get work framed, then coordinate its installation in our rooms. Of course, I write lots of emails. I also organize the opening exhibits we have for our artists, which is almost like running a mini gallery inside the Hotel.

When I’m in my studio: I’m generally working on new paintings and drawings for group and solo shows. Sometimes I meet with curators and gallery directors interested in my work, or I invite other artists over for studio visits. If I have an exhibition or commission deadline coming up, I’m painting most of the day and into the night.

I’m lucky because these two aspects of my work fit together pretty seamlessly. As a painter, I constantly meet other artists, attend shows, and look at the newest work being made. This connection with my artistic community opens doors into my curatorial work at the Hotel. At the same time, a flexible schedule at the Hotel allows me to continue my studio practice and make my own work. The combination of these two roles is ideal.

Your favorite thing about your job: 

It’s exciting to work at the unique intersection of art and hospitality. Working in galleries, I always found the traditional white box environment to be cold and impersonal. The hotel setting brings art to life in an unusual way. We’re putting artwork in rooms that people sleep in. Our guests live with these pieces, adding a level of interaction and intimacy rarely experienced in public collections. We also host opening receptions for all our artists where we take the bed out of the room and turn it into a faux-gallery space for a night. Open to the public, these exhibitions are celebrations for the artists and also a great way for us to let our neighbors and friends peak in and see what we’re doing. I love facilitating the interaction our guests have with artists from our community.

Artwork pictured here: Polaroids by Mikael Kennedy

Your least favorite thing about your job: 

At this point, word is out that we are buying artwork for the rooms, and I’m getting more and more submissions from artists interested in being added to our collection. Of course, it’s hugely flattering that they want to see their work in our space, but it’s impossible to say yes to everyone. And saying no is no fun.

Artwork pictured here: Polaroids by Mikael Kennedy

Pictured here: Wythe Toile wallpaper, designed by Dan Funderburgh of Flavor Paper

Describe the aesthetic of Wythe Hotel:       

It’s a beautiful combination of old and new. The building is a factory from the early 1900s, so we have exposed brick, arched windows, and big California yellow pine beams. At the same time, there’s also radiant-heated concrete floors and mint green side tables, so there’s a strong industrial aesthetic paired with the romance and charm of an old factory.

Recently we started an artist-in-residence program, where we invited photographer Mikael Kennedy to come stay with us and photograph his experience. We then designed and printed limited edition books of his Polaroids, available for purchase in our minibar. 

I’m always looking for ways to connect our guests with the artwork in the rooms, so creating pieces they can take home with them is an exciting part of what I do.

How do you balance your own art with your job?

To be honest, I look at both roles as one and the same. It doesn’t feel like balancing because they don’t feel different.

Best part of working at Wythe Hotel: 

The people I work with and for are remarkable. It’s an incredible thing to come to work and feel like you’re home. And also getting to buy art.

Your favorite piece of art in the hotel:

Impossible to pick — it would be like choosing a favorite child!

Artwork pictured here: Graphite drawings on paper by Emily Klass, from “Sky Watch” series

Do you have any formal education that relates to your job? 

I have a BFA in Painting and a MFA in Visual Arts. I’ve also worked in galleries, museums, and artists’ studios, so I have both formal training and work experience

What advice would you give someone interested in pursuing a similar career? 

Any artist will tell you that pursuing a career in art is difficult. There are countless hurdles and a generally unclear path to guide you where you want to go. I was told many times to become a lawyer or something “practical” instead. But I think if you work hard and love what you do, good things happen. Doors open.

What’s next for you? 

Hopefully more of the same — continuing to find great artwork for Wythe Hotel and making more paintings in my studio.

Painting pictured here: “Pink Garden” by Kimia Ferdowsi Kline

Click here to see more of Belathée’s photography