When Rika Lisslö met Alexander Klingspor at a brunch in New York City in 2015, little did they know that they would embark on a legendary collaboration that would take New York City by storm some six years later.
Already a renowned artist whose works adorned castles, corporate headquarters and private collections worldwide, Alexander is an innovator whose creative vision evolves with the times to capture imaginations with new perspectives both timeless and telling. A fellow visionary, tastemaker, TV personality and hospitality executive, Rika Lisslö is a steward of the arts with an appreciation for storytelling that’s globally focused and locally rich. Together, they brought a head-turning urban legend to the streets and an amazing hotel atrium in New York City. Unveiled in Union Square for a nine month stay from October 17 through June, 2024, Alexander Klingspor’s statue, Urban Legend NYC, represents the mythological alligators that are said to roam the city’s sewers.
“There is something truly magical about the alligator statue because it has all the finesse and history of working in wax and bronze at one of the oldest foundries in the world. It also has this inherent grittiness with the array of local items that are embedded on the manhole cover that makes it feel like a real part of New York’s streets. It tells the story of New York on so many memorable levels,” said Rika.
In conjunction with the unveiling, Rika created a partnership with the elite Thompson Central Park Hotel, part of the Hyatt brand, to create a separate exhibit of Alexander’s work that would be displayed in a privately owned public space that runs through Thompson’s Central Park hotel from 56th to 57th Street. Named Alligator Alley in recognition of Klingspor’s statue, the ground floor atrium space is showcasing an intimate behind the scenes journey that brings his art to life through four separate sculptures and a virtual tour of his tactical artistic process. The Thompson Central Park Hotel plans to rotate its art exhibitions in ongoing two-month cycles to celebrate the intersection of fine art with street art.
Thompson hotels are known for their innovative designs, luxurious touches and uniquely distinctive locations, projecting an unprecedented take on the art of hospitality that sets them apart from other hotels in their class. Add personalized services and private spaces that elevate the guest experience to a whole new level and you would be hard-pressed to find a more welcoming home for a stay in the city.
Fresh off a full-scale renovation, the Thompson Central Park is a luxury boutique hotel with a newly branded ‘hotel within a hotel’ Upper Stories Tower on the highest floors of the hotel, as well as the One11 Residences. The hotel’s thoughtfully designed mid-century hotel rooms and suites epitomize elegance and style and offer an array of pampering amenities. Both standard and Upper Stories guest rooms were designed by Stonehill Taylor, with gorgeous dark oak cabinetry, walnut floors, and marble bathrooms and tables. The height of luxury, the 174 rooms in the Upper Stories tower wow with panoramic views overlooking Central Park and Manhattan and private access to a posh concierge lounge exclusive to Upper Stories guests only. Dining venues are similarly spectacular, with its famous speak-easy style Burger Joint, a hidden gem secreted behind curtained doors; a contemporary dining and cocktail destination, Parker’s, that buzzed with jazz all night long during our visit; and a must-visit culinary hideaway, Indian Accent, serving authentic Indian fare. Ideally located near Central Park, this cutting-edge Thompson property is just steps from Carnegie Hall, the Museum of Modern Art, and Radio City Music Hall in the heart of the city.
Hyatt’s Thompson hotels are all about the destination, with extra perks that make guests not only feel right at home, but give them the keys to the city as well. Designed to inspire global conversations, each hotel is deeply rooted in its city-center urban setting, giving a reflective nod to local cultural treasures that celebrate what lasts and what moves the world forward. In her role in Hospitality Strategy & Development – Americas for Hyatt, Rika couldn’t have found a more perfect partner than the Thompson Central Park hotel to help celebrate the works of Alexander Klingspor and other emerging artists in New York City during their temporary stay in the city.
In addition to their on-site exhibition, together they have created an eye-catching digital art map that will highlight the rotating arts of New York. The map, accessible on Thompson Central Park hotel’s website, will be continuously updated to highlight temporary and pop-up art at the intersection of fine art and street art. QR codes at the site of the featured art will provide detailed information about the work and the artists.
As Rika explained, “the map will highlight works of art that are non-traditional and fun, from colorful graffiti to temporary installations like Klingspor’s alligator. They will be presented in a creative way to spotlight art for both people in the know, people who want to know and those who appreciate emerging artists’ creativity. The inaugural Art Map will be printed in a commemorative edition that guides visitors to Alligator Alley, as well as Union Square, and other sites where exciting street art by emerging artists can be found.”
“It’s about meeting people where they are. Public street art and sculptures like Urban Legend NYC are characterized by an element of surprise for people who are not necessarily seeking it out but rather come upon it as they are driving down the street or walking by. Similar to an old-time subway map, the Art Map will enable people to get more information on the art they discover,” she continued.
“As Alexander would say, the fabulous part about his alligator statue is that it really is a connector for everyday people. There are no political aspects to it. It stands as a tribute of sort to the grit and survival of New Yorkers. Universally accessible and free to see, it is art that unites, which is what we need more of in our world,” said Rika.
Rika is on a mission to bring more ways for people to interact with art around the world. With her marketing expertise and passion for finding the fairy dust wherever she goes and bringing it to the people, she is doing something few can accomplish the way she does. Not only was she instrumental in securing Union Square for the site of Alexander’s sculpture, she welcomed the Queen of Sweden, along with crowds of delighted spectators, to the unveiling of NYC Urban Legend in Union Square.
“The excitement snowballed from there with having the involvement of not just Scandinavian agencies, art affiliations and charitable organizations, but countries around the world. We were also approached by the Nordic International Film Festival who made a documentary-style short film about Alexander’s work to commemorate his legendary work. I think art like this has the opportunity of becoming a traveling exhibit, telling the story of survival, grit, and resilience of legends across the continents. There are so many opportunities that we could adapt to various places as we find that common unifying denominator in something else. I am beyond excited about the all the possibilities,” said Lisslö.
Which for today’s visitors to the Thompson Central Park Hotel and Union Square – as well as Venü readers – means many more amazing “EURIKA moments” they will not soon forget. ☐