The rich smell of chocolate permeates the vast new galleries of Hauser & Wirth in Chelsea, opening to the public today.
When I visited earlier this week, it didn’t take long to find the source: In the center of the main exhibition space two men were busy liquefying candy medallions in large pots and pouring the bubbling, fragrant substance into molds.
When the 16-foot tower of glass and steel is completed -- it was about two-thirds done -- the structure will be filled with 800 male busts made of chocolate.
The artwork is one of the highlights of “Dieter Roth. Bjorn Roth,” a sprawling survey of paintings, sculpture, film, installations, prints and assemblage, which inaugurates the Chelsea branch of the powerhouse international gallery.
Already established in London and Zurich, Hauser & Wirth is beefing up its New York presence by taking over a cavernous, 24,700-square-foot building that once housed the Roxy roller disco club.
To enter, visitors walk up a palatial staircase, framed by colorful stripes on the walls -- a permanent installation by British artist Martin Creed.
Another permanent artwork is actually a drinks bar, constructed by the Roth art clan from a hodgepodge of heavy- metal machinery, television monitors and cabinets containing old skates and tree logs. A bouquet of white roses adorns one shelf, a rusty trumpet and an old sewing machine sit on another while a pile of candles is melting away in the corner.
Often, the bar is the first thing the Roths build when they are doing an installation. The 20-year collaboration started with Dieter (1930-1998) and his son Bjorn, 51. Now Bjorn’s two sons have joined in.
Compulsively prolific, Dieter experimented with a variety of materials and media. He put a banana through an etching press, made sculptures from sugar and chocolate, painted on table cloths and prefab containers.
“He slept a maximum of three hours a day,” said Bjorn, smoking a cigarette in the bar. “This is why he left behind so much work.”
When Dieter needed a painting for an exhibition but didn’t have time to make one, he ripped out the wooden floor of his studio in Iceland and showed that.
The two vertical panels marked with paint, footprints and dirt -- each almost 20 feet tall and 40 feet wide -- are part of the exhibition.
After losing 77 pounds in a health clinic, Dieter made self-portraits with old clothes, glue and refuse.
“He was killing himself by eating and drinking too much which is why he went to the clinic,” Bjorn said. “He came out thin, sober and fresh.”
During the last year of his life, Dieter installed cameras in his studios in Germany, Switzerland and Iceland. The resulting footage -- screened on a wall of 128 monitors -- shows him, rotund and white-bearded, going through the most mundane, solitary daily activities: sketching, thinking, watering plants, reading on the toilet.
It’s a candid portrait of the artist as an old man.
Most works are on loan from the Dieter Roth Foundation and private collections. Available items range from $450,000 to $750,000. “Dieter Roth. Bjorn Roth” runs through April 13 at 511 W. 18th St. Information: +1-212-790-3900; http://www.hauserwirth.com.
Muse highlights include Laurie Muchnick on books and Patrick Cole on philanthropy.
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