Is It Art or Is It Hardware?

A group of visiting Schering-Plough executives recently convened an informal business meeting in their suite at Los Angeles’ Biltmore to tell a visitor about the company’s foray into biotechnology. But at least a quarter of an hour was devoted to a lively critique of a certain collection of art that appears in the halls and many of the rooms at the venerable hotel.

“You should see what’s in my room,” said one executive of the Madison, N.J., company. “It’s an ax--an ax on the frame of a mirror. Try sleeping with that above your head.”

Axes, hammers, screwdrivers and other objects more common to the home and hardware store than to a hotel are, in fact, common sights for Biltmore guests. Partly that’s because a partnership headed by Los Angeles-based Westgroup Inc. bought the hotel last year and has embarked on a major renovation of the 50-year-old landmark.

But the tools that caught the eye of Schering executives were not those being used to restore a 1920s atmosphere to the hotel. Rather, they are objects that have fascinated and been used by artist Jim Dine for years. Dine’s work has graced--or polluted, depending on your point of view--the Biltmore’s walls since 1976. But now, the new owners are undecided about whether to keep or dispose of the collection.


A spokesman for the Biltmore said that the 48-year-old Vermont artist’s well-known paintings, most of which feature a heart motif, will likely stay. But she said no decision has been made about his equally well-known sculptures, wall moldings and paintings featuring axes, saws, vegetables and other items, which bring a new twist to the meaning of the phrase objet d’art.

Dine, who could not be reached for comment, has been quoted as saying that he feels more comfortable with objects of the everyday world than with people.

The Schering executives, however, hardly shared in that ease. They joked about going to sleep in the same town that brought the world “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre,” “Halloween” and other hardware-horror movies.