June 07, 1999 12:00 PM

Cosimo Cavallaro is not a grate artist; he’s not even a Gouda artist. But give him a thousand pounds of melted cheese and let him smear it all over a hotel room and his work attracts attention. And maybe mice.

Cavallaro’s magnum opus, Room 114, can be seen in Manhattan’s Washington Jefferson Hotel. Using a blend of Swiss cheeses heated in a microwave, he has plastered every surface, including the TV and bed. “It reminds me of childhood,” says Cavallaro, 36. “It’s play.”

The son of Giuseppe, a welder, and Amalia, a cheese merchant, Cavallaro grew up in Montreal, where he was an art director for films and commercials. In 1995 he moved to New York City to pursue his art career. He isn’t quite sure why he chose cheese, but his first canvas was his father’s armchair. “He just looked at me and asked, ‘Why?’ ” says Cavallaro. “My mother started to laugh; people who get it laugh.”

Many hoteliers probably wouldn’t laugh, but the Washington Jefferson is going to use room 114 as a performance studio anyway. And they were planning to trash the furniture that’s now covered with cheese.

Cavallaro says that while he would next like to have a meltdown on a gondola, or perhaps in an elevator, he will soon move on to other mediums. “What I don’t want,” he says, “is to become known as the Cheese Guy.” Well, that’s Edam shame.

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