August 01, 2019

An Art Museum in Your Hotel Lobby

Forget those predictable poster reprints. Some properties have begun to push the boundaries of what it means to be a hotel with great art.

Procuring and exhibiting art in all forms has been synonymous with the hotel experience for several decades now, with both luxury and midlevel brands highlighting local artwork and museum-quality pieces rather than predictable poster reprints.

Guests like it: In a 2018 survey conducted by the nonprofit organization, Americans for the Arts, 72 percent of respondents said they enjoyed the arts in “non-arts” venues including hotels.

Art-centric hotels are popping up in many cities, including the ART in Denver and the upcoming Hall Arts Hotel in Dallas, hoping to attract a new breed of clients who want to be surrounded by sculptures, video installations, paintings and mixed media.

But of late, some properties have begun to push the boundaries of what it means to be a hotel with great art.

Actively Supporting Artists

Artists once depended only on galleries to showcase their work and be “discovered,” but more hotels now actively seek and support new talent in that role.

“We didn’t want to commission art merely for the purposes of decoration,” said Carson Glover, vice president of brand marketing at The Peninsula Hotels. The company created the “Art in Resonance” program, highlighting midcareer artists whose works were unveiled at the Hong Kong property in March.

“Nurturing the artist is an aspect that is so often lost in the business,” he added.

For the first installment of “Art in Resonance,” the American sculptor Janet Echelman created a netlike sculpture whose shape constantly changes with the wind. The Australian-born artist Timothy Paul Myers hand-wrapped everyday items like cups, saucers and chairs in red felt, creating a site-specific sculpture called “Alizarin” that stood out in the neutral tones of the lobby. And Shanghai-based MINAX architects created a modern version of the traditional Chinese teahouse using 999 pine and bamboo wooden pieces.

“For over twenty years I found myself making these large environmental installations that I can’t afford to build on my own,” says Mr. Paul Myers. His work and that of the other artists will travel to other Peninsula locations over the next few years, much like a museum exhibit.

Rotating Exhibits

Two contemporary art collectors, Laura Lee Brown and Steve Wilson, opened The 21c Museum Hotels in 2006 in Louisville, Ky., with a vision to save the downtown.

The hotel has amassed more than 3,000 works, now spread over public areas, lounges and rooms, and exhibits are open to the public 24 hours a day, seven days a week. In this aspect, this group of museum hotels — opening its ninth location this year — operates differently than a traditional gallery, which typically has more restricted exhibit hours.

The brand also co-curates exhibitions with museums like the North Carolina Museum of Art with the mind-set that hotel art does not necessarily need to take the place of gallery art.

After the film and video artist Christina Zeidler took over the Gladstone Hotel in Toronto, Canada, the 37-room boutique hotel began holding rotating exhibits annually as well as live events. Artists also helped with the interior design of the rooms.

“Artists are given free rein to think about the design of the furniture, window coverings, wallpaper or wall treatment,” said the exhibitions director Lee Petrie, who explains that apart from the permanent room art, the hotel shies away from commissioning anything. They believe continuously changing exhibits are draws for repeat visits.


Installing murals has become an increasingly popular way for hotels to spice up room design.

In Philadelphia, the artist King Saladeen grew up as a “super inner-city, super low-income kid,” and became the first artist-in-residence at the new Fitler Club, a “work/stay/play” destination. His gym mural is hard to miss; he used house paint, acrylics and spray paint to create “a burst of energy to stay motivated,” he said.

Rates at the Fitler Club start at $450 for a King-size room; there is a monthly membership to use the club and workspaces from $225.

Philanthropic Efforts

As funding for the arts is always a struggle, some properties have taken to raising contributions in more creative ways.

Saint Kate, the Arts Hotel that opened in Milwaukee, Wis., in July, invited local artists to each design and decorate its “Canvas” rooms. Each Canvas room stay has a percentage of proceeds donated to organizations including The Milwaukee Repertory Theater, Artists Working in Education and even a local radio station.

Large-Scale Installations

Suzi Cordish, who runs more than 70 properties under the Live! Casino & Hotel brand, proudly displays her personal art collection in her hotels. Of late, she’s put her energies into more large-scale installations and supporting emerging and midcareer artists.

She commissioned the Brooklyn-based Chris Doyle to create an animated moving image called “Games of Skill and Chance” on a 9-foot-tall, 40 feet-wide screen at the Maryland Live! property.

Mr. Doyle said that rather than focusing his energies on trying to raise capital, he had peace of mind and free rein working with the hotel. In this instance “the cost of making the video wall was far more expensive than the artist fee,” he said.

The Mexican artist Bosco Sodi created a 16-foot-tall, eight-feet-wide “Blue Pangaea” painting that hangs in the library of Hotel Matilda in San Miguel del Allende.

“If the hotel is a good hotel and you (as an artist) are in a position of putting your conditions with this kind of installation, that helps because a lot of people will see the work,” Mr. Sodi said.

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