Art installation in El Fenn. Photo credit: Mathias Ondraczek
With Warhols on the walls and Koons in the lobby, hotels are looking more and more like art museums.
If only the Met had Californian Kings with 800 thread count Egyptian cotton sheets, am I right?
Luxury hotels are moving away from Ikea-esque giclées and dedicating themselves to original works.
Where is this trend coming from? Experiential travel is a trend within tourism these days. Travelers want to take something back as a memory rather than just staying in a hotel. And, art is an impactful memory maker—creating lasting impressions.
We’ve taken a (virtual) peek at seven luxury hotels across the globe that are turning themselves into cultural hubs. These places are no chain hotels with bland, ubiquitous prints in silver frames. Prepare to be amazed!
The Ellerman House Gallery. Image courtesy of The Ellerman House.
Hotel as cultural ambassador.
The Ellerman House
Cape Town, South Africa
The hotel has its own in-house art guide that gives visitors a personal tour of the collection, and through the tour, gives guests an introduction into the history of Cape Town.
Talita Swarts, the Ellerman’s art guide, shares that the tour “creates an opportunity for guests to engage with our country, people and history on a more personal level.” She continues,
“I think it is a wonderful way for guests to learn about our colorful history and understand our culture better without feeling they are stepping over boundaries or asking embarrassing questions. Art is wonderfully honest when it comes to talking about politics.”
And the tour makes a significant impact on the guests. Talita commented, “I often receive feedback that the tour of our collection was the highlight of their trip. That it has opened up their minds and hearts to South Africa and they leave feeling enriched. Many guests also comment on the unexpected richness and sophistication of South African art history.”
Hotel as art guide.
Looking for something to do between dropping your bags on the hotel bed and your dinner reservation?
Guests of the Conrad Indianapolis can enjoy rotating art exhibits through the “Art Stays Here” program, a partnership with the Long-Sharp Gallery. Exhibits in the gallery and throughout the hotel’s public spaces are all curated by Rhonda Long-Sharp, the owner of the Long-Sharp Gallery, which is located on the first floor of the hotel.
Unique to the Conrad Indianapolis is its Art Ambassadors. Two dozen hotel team members receive extensive training on the exhibits (often from the artists themselves) and are certified to provide tours to the guests. Visitors can tour through works by Picasso, Russell Young, and artists based in Indiana—to which there is an entire floor dedicated.
Blue Line Room Designed by GHOST DESIGN (Barr Gilmore and Michel Arcand). Photo courtesy of The Gladstone Hotel.
Hotel as contributor to creative economy.
The Gladstone Hotel
According to the Gladstone Hotel, art is not just decorations on the wall, but a necessary part of the hotel’s business approach. “It connects us to each other, deepens our experience, strengthens our local economy and builds community” asserts Lee Petrie, Director of Exhibitions.
In 2005 the Gladstone Hotel commissioned artists to design 37 unique hotel rooms.
To propel the Canadian art market, the Gladstone curates three gallery spaces with contemporary art by local and regional artists. The hotel also partners with community arts organizations, and rents gallery space for group or solo shows.
Photo credit: Kasia Gatkowska
Hotel as cultural space.
Co-owner, Vanessa Branson, transformed an ancient ruin into an elegant luxury boutique hotel in the medieval streets of Marrakech.
Vanessa and her business partner Howell James maintain the spirit of the building’s past with a contemporary twist. On the brightly colored timeworn walls hang large contemporary canvases from Vanessa’s private collection. You’ll see show-stoppers like a massive drawing by William Kentridge above the bar, and bold graphic works continue throughout the rooms—pieces by Gormley, Shrigley, Doctor Lakra, etc.
El Fenn commits itself to shouldering responsibility as a cultural space. According to Vanessa,
“There are a growing number of arts initiatives in Morocco but the number is still small. Hotels can play a great role in stimulating creativity. We do this by playing live music, showing films, having talks and of course with our rolling exhibition program of works in collaboration with Moroccan art galleries.”
Daylight Pass II painted by Kathleen Frank (pictured on right). Image credits: La Posada de Santa Fe
Hotel as art historian.
La Posada de Santa Fe
Santa Fe, New Mexico
“The Art Hotel of New Mexico” employs an art curator, Sara Eyestone, to lead its historic art program which began in the early 1940s. The hotel became the first public place in New Mexico to feature art for sale. Georgia O’Keefe even showed her artwork there in the early days.
Eager to share the tales of western artists, Sara tells history stories in the lobby to visitors and guests every Friday afternoon. Topics range from artists in the past who found their way west, to present-day artists, their work and their studios.
Hotels, like museums, invest in cataloging the rich history of their art collections. Many institutions, hotels and museums alike, use online art inventory platforms like Artwork Archive to track provenance details, exhibition history and the longstanding relationships with their artists and curators.
Photo courtesy of The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas
Hotel as art vendor.
The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas
Las Vegas, Nevada
The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas features six Art-o-mat machines, each of which dispenses a variety of original artwork. Created by artist Clark Whittington, Art-o-mat machines are made from cigarette vending machines that have been repurposed as a vehicle to distribute art to the masses.
Over 100 Art-o-mat machines are currently in existence, featuring small works of art by more than 400 artist collaborators from across the world. The Cosmopolitan hosts the most machines of any single venue and was the first hotel to house them.
The Willard in 1818. Artwork by Serena Martin.
Hotel as living (art) history.
The Willard InterContinental
“We don’t throw up art just because it’s pretty. It has to tie to our story,” says Janet Scanlon, the marketing manager of the Willard Intercontinental Washington Hotel. And what is the story of this historic hotel?
The Willard began as a row-house built by Captain John Tayloe in 1816. In its 200+ year history, the hotel has welcomed U.S. presidents (Franklin Pierce being the first), international leaders and ambassadors, and hosted monumental gatherings like the first Japanese Delegation in 1860.
The artwork in the hotel tells the rich story of not only the hotel itself but of its city and the country’s political history. “We are a part of the DC experience,” shares Janet. “We are a living museum. People that come through are not just guests.”
What are they coming to view? There’s a portrait of President Grant in Egypt in the Round Robin bar. Janet jokes: “The desert is dry, but the bar isn’t.” There’s also a portrait of Henry Clay, the Kentucky Senator that actually introduced the Mint Julep in the Round Robin Bar.
Hotel as art museum, literally.
21c Museum Hotels
Vogue listed the 21c Museum Hotel (a contemporary art museum combined with a boutique hotel chain) as one of the most innovative hotels in 2018.
The original 21c Museum Hotel, located in Louisville, Kentucky, is nestled in Museum Row. Curated exhibitions and site-specific installations live within five 19th-century warehouses—that’s over 9,000 square feet of exhibition space!
The galleries are open 24/7 every day of the year to the public. Visitors can look upon a Jenny Holtzer or sleep in the Cyclone room—a site-specific sculptural installation created by artists Jonah Freeman and Justin Lowe.