One of the owners, Ira Drukier, said last month that 48 long-term tenants remained. He said the goal was to open rooms on the upper floors in a few months.
“We started from the top down,” he said. “We hope to have 10, 9, 8, 7 in operation before the end of the year.”
Last month the renovations reached the restaurant on the first floor, El Quijote. It will remain closed for several months while workers install support columns in the kitchen, among other things. And the tenants who are living through the renovation come and go through an unstylish vestibule that leads to a lobby that has all the charm of a construction site, although the ornate front desk is a transplant from the hotel’s earlier days.
Mr. Georgiou said he lived in the Chelsea from September 2002 to April 2011. He said he had been a principal in an internet start-up company, living on Chambers Street downtown, and witnessed the Sept. 11 attacks from his apartment. He moved out amid health problems and a financial drain, and ended up at the Chelsea.
“When you move in there,” he said, “without getting ethereal about it, there is a sense of energy in the building.”
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There was also what he called its “utopian spirit.” “They were running a business, for sure,” he said, “but there was eccentricity, kookiness, darkness, light, all of it colliding to make it a very interesting place.” That began to change after the longtime manager, Stanley Bard, was ousted in 2007 in a power struggle among the owners.
Mr. Georgiou said he had occupied Room 225, and of course it had a history. “I lived in Bob Dylan’s room,” he said. One of them, anyway. “He lived in three rooms: 211, 215 and 225,” he said.
Mr. Georgiou said he visited the building after renovations began and construction workers were in the corridors. “I said, ‘Do you guys realize what you’re doing here?’ ” he recalled. “I said: ‘This is history. I realize the building needs work, but tread lightly.’ One day I asked, ‘What are you doing with this stuff?’ They said, ‘Oh, we’re throwing it away.’ ”
“When I’m anxious I always go to the park,” said Leila Heller, the gallerist behind Ms. Hovnanian’s multigenre and satirical installations. “But kids don’t know how to do that these days because they’re on their phones.” That said, the show is drawing crowds.
Visitors are free to sit and linger and many do. They can’t, however, take pictures or text their friends.
“It’s about detaching from technology and using your other senses,” Ms. Hovnanian said.
She has been, like many people, appalled at her own tech addiction for years.
“A normal user touches her phone 2,500 times a day and an excessive one touches it twice that,” Ms. Hovnanian added, referring to various studies from business websites. “I met a mother who told me that her 2-year-old’s first words were ‘Mama, ‘Dada’ and ‘iPad.’”
She was not always so anti-tech. Her previous installations included “Plastic Perfect,” featuring hyper-realistic robotic babies that gallery visitors held while posing for social media.
“Easier than real babies, and you can order them online like pizza,” Ms. Hovnanian said.
She also created a video installation, “Foreplay,” with young, nearly naked couples lounging in bed while staring into glowing phones, as if they were lovers in a four-way or perhaps about to conceive an artificial baby by way of ordering one from Amazon.
Another installation included a dinner table populated with two iPads that show video images of a man and a woman. They are positioned to seem like they’re staring at each other.
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“I’ve seen couples on dates with one of them texting on a phone, which causes the other one to start texting too,” Ms. Hovnanian said,“It’s all very alienating and distracting.”
The artist, who is married to Ara K. Hovnanian, president and chief executive of Hovnanian Enterprises, a Fortune 500 home-construction company, asks her family to put away phones at dinner and has a rule for herself of not turning on her phone while having coffee with her husband in the morning.
Galleries and museums, of course, have been dealing with phone intrusions for years. Unlike theaters, however, they don’t require audiences to turn off their devices. Most have given up on prohibiting or policing photography. Some have paid the price for their leniency.
A few years ago, a student visiting the Academy of Fine Arts of Brera in Italy tried to take a selfie while sitting on the lap of a statue and broke off its leg. Last year a selfie-taker at the Hirshhorn Museum in Washington backed into a Yayoi Kusama sculpture and damaged it.
Still, social media can help galleries promote shows and make them more fun.
“I don’t like to control how people behave and besides, most of our visitors are very respectful,” said Anne Pasternak, the director of the Brooklyn Museum, who is overseeing a David Bowie exhibition that forbids photography, in a rare move for the museum. “But I do think that lit-up screens can be distracting in a dark installation.”
Some visitors to Ms. Hovnanian’s installation balk when told that they have to give up their phones to go into her forest. “I’ll come back another time,” one young man said, then turned and fled.
But most of them, according to staff members, don’t mind at all.
“Many people leave without remembering to get their phones back,” said Brandon Reis, an intern at the gallery who heard one visitor suggest to another about coming back to spend spring break in the Immersion Room.
Ms. Hovnanian, who is 58, and who once created a cafe installation that served mud pie (recipe instructions in the catalog include taking shoes off to feel the cool earth beneath your feet) enjoys interacting with visitors who ask questions about the various rooms of her current exhibition. (The Immersion Room is on display through April 11, and there is also a Waiting Room in which visitors enter a plaster igloo to charge their phones.)
Last Wednesday she listened to a young man from Paris who emerged exuberant from the Immersion Room, as if he just came in from a long hike through a redwood forest. “So many artists are good at mocking social media and selfie culture,” he told her in excellent English. “But you actually give us a reason to give up our phones.”