Manhattan's quaint little Washington Jefferson Hotel recently had a special visitor in Room 114: 800 pounds of melted Appenzeller, Gruyère and Emmenthaler, coating everything in sight. The occasion was Cosimo Cavallaro's Cheese Room, and while the fine artist has another life as a commercials director at New York's Emerald Films, this was no American Dairy Farmers commercial -- this was art. Pungent art. The cheese, donated by Switzerland Cheese Marketing, is microwaved to kill all bacteria, but a week after the May 20 opening, it still stank. "It was really strong when it was fresh," says Cavallaro, who needed five days for the installation. So why go to the trouble of covering a room in cheese? "The smell of cheese is the strongest reminder of my childhood," he explains. "And cheese is from milk, milk being motherhood." In other words, he grew up in Montreal, where his mother ran a cheese deli. No meat? "No, she sold cheese," he says. "So I wasn't motivated to do the bathroom in bologna."
Cavallaro chose a hotel room because "I've lived most of the past 10 years in them," he says. Next, he'd like to do an elevator in cheese. "Actually, I'm thinking about contacting Virgin and doing a whole airplane," he muses. "You gotta have fun, you know? Just to play." But can art really be this, uh, cheesy? "Some reporter asked me why is this art. I told him A) because I'm the one doing it, and B) who cares? You can call it whatever you want to call it. But anything that reaches some level of beauty is art."
The room is not only beautiful, it has a built-in expiration date. "It follows a