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We’ve all walked into restaurants, coffee shacks, and other stores with art on the walls. When is it wallpaper? And when is it really art?

Cherchez la source. Pay attention to the venue. If it’s a coffee shop it’s probably cheap local stuff. Might be fun, probably boring – but it’s an art opening where you buy the drinks. If it’s a restaurant, you’ll have more time to stare at it – from afar. Might be a good excuse to say hello to someone near where it hangs whom you’d like to meet. But it’s definitely wallpaper – and you’re paying to watch it.

ISAIA is a classy classic Mad Ave store in the 60s – a venue where art works. Last Thursday night, Sept 22, ISAIA pulled off one of the best marriages of art and store products imaginable.

The ArtCards.cc app missed it ’cause they focus on gallery-based shows – shows featuring art that’s mid-level in price – in the usual places, Manhattan’s many galleries.

Manhattan’s insightful art blog, http://www.LarryQualls.blogspot.com, picked up on it because Larry thinks outside the box – in this case outside the gallery scene. He mentions each morning that day’s events where high-end high-cost art is shown in all venues. Art marketers! thinking outside the box like Larry does when it comes to where to showcase excellent art. Larry searches high and low when scouring the art scene. A glance at his blog will reveal nonprofits like the Warhol Foundation renting town houses for a show, popups for one day only, museums focusing on one artist or period, historical societies, graduate schools, bookstores – you name it. Special art deserves special places – unique venues.

How do we spot them? These shows often offer the bonus of a vetted talk on a related topic, a reading of a related poem, or the playing of music connected someway to the art. Since the art is often high end the refreshments offered may blow your socks off as well. And they may be offered in of all places, a store.

All this ISAIA does with flair and a flourish. Presumably it’s done as a thank you and acknowledgment of the overall high level of their loyal users – and reminding them that the clothing being offered keeps good company. The plus is this is done generously – for ISAIA realizes that the word of mouth these events generates is worth a great deal in the long run. And it’s obvious from googling them that they’re here indeed for the long haul.

ISAIA is all about enduring quality. Like Italian ambassadors including tenor Enrico Caruso, film star Sofia Loren, New York’s Mario Cuomo, author Mario Puzo and legendary producer Dino de Laurentis it builds on and develops time honored patterns, materials, and design. Its $3500 sport jackets have a timelessness that somehow they make current. All is as rare as the local red coral which is their key design element – their marque de qualite.

And the photography – also imported from Italia – this evening more than matched the clothes on the rack. Accompanied by poetry in Italian and English, and astonishingly simple piano pieces. With food and drink as classic as the four figure fotos and the four figure clothing. (Aperol proseco spritzers were a popular choice this evening.) This multilayered cake of quality led me to ignore the two other openings I was to go to a few blocks away. Like so many I closed out this party feeling I’d just been a part of something special.

Merchants of New York! pay attention! Marry what you are selling – if it is quality – with quality art that can equal its heritage and history. Look at how ISAIA has nestled the nine giant photographs of Barbara Luisi into everything else in the store. It’s all there: perfectly presented. They look not just as if they belonged there: they looked rooted there.


Choose art that can match your quality. The Luisi eye focuses on key themes and details important to a Neapolitan firm as long-lived as ISAIA: ancient roots of Apulia olive trees, icons of centuries of growth, tumult and survival. Connection with nature, inspiration by centuries of design results in harmony in black and white as interwoven as the herringbone material hung nearby.

See her site, BarbaraLuisi.com. And stop by ISAIA at 819 Madison for a visual feast.