An Artist Posed as a Hungarian Billionaire to Tour Elite Manhattan Penthouses

Photographer Andi Schmied successfully fooled New York City real estate agents into letting her tour some of Manhattan's most coveted penthouses

Billionaires Row
The art of scamming one's way onto billionaires' row.
Gary Hershorn/Getty Images

Photographer Andi Schmied successfully fooled New York City real estate agents into letting her tour some of Manhattan’s most coveted penthouses by posing as a Hungarian billionaire.

The ruse granted Schmied access to 25 of the city’s most elite offerings, including several on Manhattan’s famed Billionaires’ Row, Christopher Bonanos reported for Curbed.

“I obviously built a persona, because my real persona would not be granted access,” Schmied, who is originally from Budapest, told Curbed. The photographer said she went by her middle name, Gabriella, and invented a faux life story for herself that included a fictional husband, a 21-month-old son, and a career as a well-to-do gallerist with a personal assistant named Coco.

“They’d just put me in this box of ‘artsy billionaire,’ and would start to talk to me about MoMA’s latest collection. So anything goes,” said Schmied. The artist said the real estate agents she was attempting to fool often actually helped her come up with new ways to elevate the ruse. Once one agent inquired about a personal chef, for example, Schmied knew to bring up “our chef” and their needs at her next appointment.

Under the ruse, Schmeid captured photos from some of New York’s most coveted penthouses in elite buildings including 432 Park Avenue, Steinway Tower, and Central Park Tower.

“I’d always say something like, ‘Oh, my grandfather gave it to me — to record all the special moments in my life,’” Schneid told agents of the film camera she carried with her.

The photographer compiled the photos she captured into the book, Private Views: A High-Rise Panorama of Manhattan.

But would the artist ever actually live in any of the ultra-luxe spaces she toured?”I don’t think so,” Schmeid told Bonanos. “I would have to become like Gabriella was — a fictional persona — and that’s an immensely tiring job, to be like her. I don’t think I would feel comfortable in such a context.”

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