It’s not every day that modern painters, performance artists, and their legions of patrons descend upon a venue as tony as The Plaza Hotel. A white-box gallery or a frigid and far-flung warehouse? Sure. But the hotel’s lush Edwardian Room? That’s rare.
And yet, that’s where curator Stacy Engman could be found on Wednesday night.
Though her true backstory remains a mystery and somehow traverses cities from Hong Kong to Chicago, one thing’s for certain: Engman has had a lifelong love affair with art. She earned her Masters in contemporary art at Sotheby’s Institute of Art in London before returning to Manhattan in 2007 where she regularly curates exhibitions with art world pals. This time around at The Plaza, in an exhibit billed as “Engman’s Artist Residency,” she assembled some of her favorite works from the late Roy Newell, close confidante Nelson Saiers and performance artist Terence Koh, who roamed the party barefoot as apart of an “endurance art piece,” in which he lives in the gallery space for a whopping nine days.
To Engman, the iconic hotel property that opened in 1907 was viewed as a stage to shake up the norm, which is something she does often. “The Plaza is the perfect backdrop for the juxtaposition of storied beautiful histories, combining old and new in New York art and society,” Engman told Observer, sporting a tiara, black fur coat and a high blonde ponytail. “The great privilege of art and working with artists of our time is being able to support new ideas that can change the discourse of art and art history itself. Every show I always strive to do something new that has never been done before and push boundaries out a little further each time, to create new understanding and awareness of art and important ideas.”
Despite her appearance, lofty responses like these prove that she isn’t totally full of hot air. Instead, she’s in on the joke. Donning her finery at any hour of the day (she once claimed, “[d]aytime dressing is completely overrated”), around the globe at fashion shows and aboard yachts, Engman is a caricature of an uptown doyenne—and she is unmistakable in any room. In a 2016 legal proceeding involving an airplane altercation she arrived sporting a mini-dress accessorized with a pink feather boa and a yellow sash that cried: “Dangerously Glamorous—Stop Fashion Profiling.”
“I’ve worn sunglasses, tiaras, and headpieces throughout my career, and since art has become more mainstream and famous, so have I, although it’s been my signature in the art world for years,” she told us. “It may seem new to the general public, but it’s classic art world me. I’ve been the muse of artists and designers and am regularly in their studios and collaborating and inventing and imagining. I just wear and curate and make what I love.” These platitudes make it hard not to think that this member of New York’s social scene is toying with her confidantes, a pantomime of what the rest of the world sees when they think of Manhattan’s privileged set.
“I’ve always been interested in the seamless nature of art and life, and how transient stories become spice in the stew for permanent structures we value as part of art discourse of what constitutes the iconic collective conscious,” Engman added. “I’m interested in living art and viewing art. The artists bring life and experimental approaches to a space, exploring universal themes we can all grasp and understand regardless of culture. Art is life and that’s a natural realization in this context. It’s a vital part of being alive and human.”
Engman’s personal style reflects this exact sentiment. Like any painting, her liveliness is felt before she even utters a word. Through all of the ball gowns and private jets, she is a walking, talking piece of performance art herself, whose flagrant opulence obviously captivates partygoers.