The Fine Art of Hospitality
Beyond providing creature comforts, hotels are now working to lend a cultural dimension to their guests’ experience with museum-worthy art collections
On the walls hang the conceptual works of emerging talent, and in the courtyard, an installation piece by environmental artist and sculptor Ned Kahn, which puffs out dreamy cloud rings. Even the illumination for the elevator is a creation of Chilean artist Ivan Navarro, known for his work using lights and mirrors. One would be forgiven for thinking they were in a museum or gallery, except this temple to modern art also serves as a hotel.
The 21C Louisville, part of the 21C group (www.21cmuseumhotels.com) of museum hotels, was set up by Americans Laura Lee Brown and Steve Wilson. The two contemporary art enthusiasts didn’t set out to build a hotel with a stunning art collection. Rather, they wanted a whole new lifestyle concept that combines art space, F&B offerings and luxe accommodations. Apart from specially commissioned pieces—ranging from an interactive digital work that invites the viewer to “catch” a rain of falling alphabets, to an entire, functional room designed as an immersive art experience—the four properties spread across the southern American cities of Cincinnati, Bentonville and Durham also host artist lectures, live performances, film screenings, poetry readings and other cultural activities—all free and open to the public.
The 21C properties are not the only gallery-hotels in the world. In Florence, Italy, contemporary Gallery Hotel Art (www.lungarnocollection.com) by Florentine architect Michele Bönan is also an arts venue to see and be seen. Since 2003, the lobby and lounges of the hotel have hosted exhibitions by renowned contemporary photographers such as pop-surrealist David LaChapelle and Magnum lensman Elliott Erwitt.
Over in Taiwan, Humble House Taipei (www.humblehousehotels.com), with its collection of over 600 works of art displayed throughout the hotel, is also an integrated art, living and entertaining space. This May, it partnered Taiwanese art stalwart Galerie Grand Siècle to present the Formosa Art Show aimed at showcasing Taiwanese contemporary art to an international audience. Indeed, where else better than a hotel to reach people from all over the world?
Certainly, few hotels take their commitment to showcasing art to the same extent as 21C, Gallery Hotel Art or Humble House Taipei. But museum-quality pieces have become a hallmark of sophistication for hotels in an increasingly competitive market. This, however, is not a new trend. In fact, luxury hotels paved the way for high-end residences when it comes to incorporating art on property grounds. Case in point: the Bellagio in Las Vegas, where Steve Wynn made his private collection of originals by Old Masters and Impressionists public in the late 1990s.
Whether it is through the interest of its owners or guided by corporate will and marketing incentive, luxury hotels are now paying as much attention to curating a respectable art collection as they are with remembering the pillow preferences of their most loyal patrons. Whether a guest will return to stay just to be in the presence of such priceless artwork is anyone’s guess. Chances are, though, he will be telling his friends all about it.
Here in Singapore, The Ritz-Carlton Millenia (ritzcarlton.com) boasts one of the world’s largest hotel art collections, with 4,200 pieces on display, including works by Dale Chihuly, Frank Stella and Ellsworth Kelly. St. Regis Singapore (stregis.com/Singapore) made news when it unveiled the art collection curated by Cecilia Kwek, wife of owner Kwek Leng Beng in 2007. The multi-million-dollar collection includes originals such as the oil painting Scene from Beijing by Georgette Chen in the lobby, the lithograph Les Renoncules by Marc Chagall in the presidential suite, and commissioned works by Singapore artists Chen Ke Zhan and Chua Ek Kay.
At The Dolder Grand (www.thedolderresort.com) in Zurich, Switzerland, paintings by Salvador Dali and Andy Warhol, and installation art by Juan Munoz and Takashi Murakami are housed under one roof, while sculptural works by Fernando Botero, Joan Miro and Henry Moore grace the outdoor spaces.
In Italy, Rome Cavalieri (www.romecavalieri.com) invites guests to feast their eyes on the intricate beauty of its art collection with more than 1,000 pieces from the 16th to the 20th centuries. A selection of Art Nouveau glass works by French artist Emile Galle impresses at its three-Michelin-star restaurant La Pergola, while imposing Beauvais tapestries hang in the lobby, the only public display of these 16th century works outside The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and The Getty in Los Angeles.
Though situated in Asia, The Sherwood Taipei (www.sherwood.com.tw) boasts an impressive repertoire spanning originals from 19th century European artists and Louis XVI antique clocks, to chests from the Ming dynasty and pieces by 20th century Chinese master Chen Yi Fei.
While most hotels display their multi-million-dollar collection in public areas, Hotel Eclat Beijing (www.eclathotels.com/beijing)—apart from housing a gallery and lounge exhibiting China’s largest contemporary art collection and the largest Dali collection outside of Europe—also has a piece of art in each of its 100 rooms.
Sense of Place
At the announcement of a multi-million-dollar Alex Katz collection to be showcased at Langham Place, New York in September 2015, chairman of Langham Hospitality Group Dr. K.S. Lo said that he chose the New York artist’s work “because it best embodies the liveliness of New York City… His work exudes sophistication and prominently features the kind of personalities that are acutely representative of our guests.”
Indeed, as cultural products, visual art lends a unique sense of place and hoteliers who have realised this are using it to create a distinct identity. Gramercy Park Hotel (gramercyparkhotel.com) has been dedicated in its focus on 20th century New York City artists since art collector and real estate developer Aby Rosen took over the property in 2006. Here, ever-changing displays—including pieces by Andy Warhol, Jean-Michel Basquiat and Damien Hirst—are scattered in all corners, from lobby and event halls to guest rooms and bars, injecting a quintessentially New York dynamism and vibrancy.
At Ellerman House (www.ellerman.co.za) in Cape Town, South Africa, historical paintings depicting the landscape of Cape Town in 1910 along with the ground-breaking works of pioneering black artists in the 1940s, not only tell the contemporary history of South Africa, but of the entire continent. Numbering almost 1,000 pieces, the collection is touted as one of the world’s largest gatherings of South African art.
In Istanbul, it is not just golden mosaic tiles, chandeliers of glass bubbles reminiscent of whirling Dervishes, and other rich decorative elements evocative of Byzantium that link Raffles Istanbul (www.raffles.com/istanbul) to the heritage of its host city. At the lobby, commissioned bronze sculpture Lavinia is American artist Martin Dawe’s interpretation of a famous Turkish poem of the same name. Adjacent to it, French photographer Jean-Francois Rauzier captures the Dolmabahçe Palace in his iconic hyperrealist style. Along with these international names, Turkish artists were also commissioned to create a collection of over 200 pieces of artwork—from oils by painter Sali Turan to mirrored wall-installations by Şahin Paksoy—which come together to create a dreamy, avant-garde impression of Istanbul within the walls of the hotel.
With museum-worthy pieces and specially commissioned work within their collection, these hotels deliver an added dimension to their guests’ stay, well beyond mere comfort and luxury. Who knows—one day, the art cognoscenti might be planning their travel itinerary not just around art museums, but also the hotels where they can immerse themselves in fine art.