Cosimo Cavallaro has created a Muenster.
It's as gouda as it gets, a hotel room covered in 1,000 pounds of melted cheese--a mixture of shredded Gruyere, Swiss and other varieties.
In Room 114, cheese drips from a ceiling fan. It is draped over chairs and the television. It blankets two beds and hangs from the overhead light in long strands reaching the floor. It covers an ashtray and two glasses. It is spread over the walls and the carpet. It nearly covers the blinking red message light of the bedside telephone.
The place smells something like a New York apartment would if a party spread were left out overnight . . . in August.
To Cavallaro, this is art.
He is paying the regular rate of about $100 a night for a suite at the Washington Jefferson Hotel and has turned it into a work of "installation art."
"Beautiful," Cavallaro sighs after flinging another giant measuring cup of the stuff at the ceiling.
He compares his art to a love affair or religion and says it has even helped him work through issues with his sometimes too-tough father.
"Somebody asked me: 'Why cheese?' I don't know, why not?" Cavallaro asks. "I wouldn't do this if I knew that you wanted it."
Cavallaro's mother owned a cheese deli in his native Canada and his family used to make some of its own.
His first cheese-covered art was a piece of furniture handed down from his dad. Cavallaro returned from lunch one day, looked at his father's old armchair--he had long thought about reupholstering it--and reached for the mozzarella. It was liberating.
"It was a childish act. I was allowing myself to dirty this chair," Cavallaro says. "I guess I finally stood up to him."
Soon, he got the urge to decorate a hotel room.
Enter one-time gallery owner Jules Feiler, who once represented a guy whose shtick was lying on the floor at parties and letting people vacuum him.
"When I first talked to him, I thought he was just another in a series of nuts that have entered my life, but it's not the case," Feiler says of the cheese guy. "I really do believe his work is genuine."
Feiler found Bob Lindenbaum, general manager at the Washington Jefferson. With his hotel undergoing renovation, Lindenbaum was looking for something to draw new customers. He even donated the old furniture. The hotel is also responsible for cleanup (read: toss out the furniture.)
When the cheese exhibit ends June 20, Feiler has a comic lined up to take over. The guy will live in Room 114 for a month and promises to tell jokes to anyone who knocks on his door.
As for Cavallaro, he hasn't quite gotten the cheese thing out of his system. Next up: a taxi, an elevator, maybe even a subway car.