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Sleeping with the Masters

Great art is adding color, life and personality to the traveler’s luxury hotel experience

November 30, 2019

Art and hospitality make great bedfellows at hotel properties that have found a satisfying focus on the art world. No matter who the master on the wall may be, guests get a chance to revel in works they might not get to experience otherwise and often in the luxury of quiet and privacy.

Hotel walls offer the perfect backdrop for works that tell stories of deep and current history, provide fodder for thought and add a pleasant sense of place. Guests get to enjoy these moments without elbowing others for a better view or feeling the pressure to get through a warren of galleries before closing time.

In many hotels, such as Vik Retreats, a boutique chain of design, wine and art-centric stays in Chile and Uruguay, art, flair and style breathes through every space. The properties are owned and operated by a husband and wife team of high value art collectors and the guest rooms are but canvases on which prominent regional artists are commissioned to lay out their vision.

Also in the region, in Santiago de Cali near the West Andes mountains in Colombia, stands a giant architectural landmark. The Hotel Spiwak Chipichape was inspired by New York City’s Guggenheim Museum and houses an noteworthy collection of regional artworks. The 226-suite property is modern, minimalist, circular and unconventional in design, and greets guests with a dizzying array of art pieces and impressive sculptural works in the lobby.

Photo by Ilene Perlman

New York-Made Moments 

However, nowhere is the intersection of art and hospitality more visible than in New York, long at the epicenter of the international art world. Until now, that world was given to museumgoers and denizens of the social elite. But these days, you can wake up to the art of legendary painters and sculptors past and present at several of New York City’s trendy hotels.

Many of Manhattan’s hotels are boutique by most standards, but big things come in small packages as some of America’s top artists have their masterworks hanging in lobbies, lounges and restaurants of these otherwise unassuming places.

“‘One of a kind’ defines what boutique hotels should be,” says Peter Yeung, general manager of Gramercy Park Hotel. “Displaying original works of art allows a hotel to create the feel and mood it wants. It tells the guest exactly what kind of hotel they are and creates loyalty from guests, who connect with it, or not.”

Located across from Gramercy Park, Gramercy Park Hotel is one of several chic properties in New York City that places art at the epicenter of its message. “This has been part of the bold culture at the Gramercy Park Hotel and what has made our hotel unique,” Yeung says.

Photo by Ilene Perlman

The hotel is an 18-story Renaissance Revival property that dates back to 1925 and has hosted such guests as John F. Kennedy, the Rolling Stones and other luminaries. However, it took a purchase by art collector and real estate developer Aby Rosen in 2006, plus the brilliant eye of Oscar-winning film maker and artist Julien Schnabel, to become the castle of Goth it is today with bold, modern flourishes and curated furnishings, paintings and sculptures.

Works include art by Jean Michele Basquiat, Fernando Butero, Michael Scoggins, David Salle, Jean Michel Basquiat and Richard Prince. The continuously revolving collection spreads from the lobby to the bar and lounge to guest rooms and to the rooftop bar and event space. Andy Warhol is in force here with his fierce profiles in neon hues of actor Sylvester Stallone, Rudolph Nureyev, Jerry Hall, the Shah of Iran, Giorgio Armani and others.

Also find Damien Hirst’s haunting études, such as his 2007 painting “Oral Cancer, Light Micrograph,” hang in a public reception area. The painting bursts in an explosion of hot pink healthy cells infused with deadly gray flecks on a canvas that is all mouth hanging on the wall beneath a ceiling blanketed in what seems like a million dangling light bulbs.

“Art is the core pillar of Gramercy Park Hotel – it is embedded in our history and weaved into the guest experience,” says marketing director Danielle Choi. “Business travelers tend to be the type of guests who are in a rush, compared to leisure travelers who are staying at hotels just as much to use the property as a ‘base,’ than they are to soak in every aspect of the guest experience. To cater to both types of travelers, this is why our art experience starts right when guests enter the front door, so whether or not guests are rushed, they are able to enjoy the gallery nonetheless,” Choi explains.

“We’re fortunate to have access to some of the greatest works of art. Not every hotel can do this,” she adds.

A sister property owned by Rosen called 11 Howard opened in SoHo with a monumental mural on its south-facing side. The 150 by 50-foot mural depicting the grit and glories of SoHo history in white, black and blue, was designed by a group of young artists under the mentorship of Jeff Koons. In it see a whimsical working man’s vision of SoHo: the brawn that built it, the brilliance that created it and the culture that now defines it rising up from the streets where it all started.

​Photo by Ilene Perlman

The Edition on Madison Avenue in the Flatiron District focuses on fine art photography. It blankets the walls of its lounge and fine dining areas with a curated collection of black and white photographs of prominent figures within baroque gold leaf frames. Guests will recognize profiles of Bob Dylan, Audrey Hepburn and the Rolling Stones amid iconic street and rooftop scenes that are quintessentially New York.

At the bottom of Manhattan in Battery Park, just around the corner from the new World Trade Center, the Conrad New York Downtown has possibly the most impressive lobby in the city when it comes to contemporary art and design.

It’s hard not to be overcome by Sol LeWitt’s 100 by 80-foot Loopy Doopy in the expansive 15-story atrium. Illuminated from the sky by day and by changing tones of indigo and magenta by night, this work is the largest by the late artist and puts all patrons wandering the lobbies and room corridors inside the art.

Shapes of the lobby furnishings, windows and stark décor become part of what’s inside the frame in a shifting focus of exteriors, interiors, colors and light that never allows this endeavor to be the same artwork twice. There are more than 2,000 works throughout the hotel’s public spaces and 463 luxury guest suites, and highly acclaimed pop-up galleries are always in motion around the neighborhood.

Another inspiring find among the city’s art hotel habitats is The Chambers, where each floor offers its own artistic submersion as blank corridor walls have been turned into canvases for prominent New York artists.

The World of Art 

Nearby, the Peninsula Hotel New York has kept a revolving masterwork collection through recent years, curated through Circa 1881 (named for the year the French Government withdrew its support for the Salon de Paris and sparked an independence push that led to the modern art movement).

The Peninsula brand launched a commission-based contemporary art program, Art in Resonance, Hong Kong last March as the Official Hotel Partner of Art Basel Hong Kong. There, the Hong Kong property unveiled a multi-year, global art initiative with a stunning array of new immersive commissions at its flagship.

Artists recently on view in Hong Kong included Iván Navarro (b. 1967 Chile), Janet Echelman (b. 1966 United States), MINAX (founded 2005, China) and Timothy Paul Myers (b. 1972 Australia). The program returns to Peninsula Hong Kong next March for Art Basel before then traveling on to Peninsula Tokyo in April with more inclusions. Art in Resonance will make its way around the world this way with programs for London, Istanbul and Yangon already in the planning.

“Art has always been extremely important to The Peninsula Hotels, and our Art in Resonance program allows us to exercise a deeper level of commitment, beyond simply acting as a venue to display art for the sake of decorating, and instead act as originators and true innovators of culture,” says Carson Glover, vice president, brand marketing and communications, The Peninsula Hotels.

In the American heartland, C21 Museum Hotels is a recent museum-meets-hospitality concept with branded properties taking root in cities across the South and Midwest. Founded by collectors of art, each of the now 11 properties features collaborations with artists worldwide providing the perfect setting for stunning exhibits complemented by a robust cocktails and food and beverage convention throughout the brand.

As North America’s only collecting museum dedicated solely to art of the 21st century, 21c Museum Hotel’s goal seeks to promote accessible, unexpected contemporary art experiences in its range of programming – and viewing the works is always free to the public.

In similar style, Raffles, an Accor property, places its own imprint on this hospitality concept in Istanbul.

Opened in 2014, Raffles Istanbul presents a design inspired by Istanbul’s storied and bejeweled history with works illuminating the Byzantine era in Turkish history. Sculptures, photographs and paintings contribute to the overall theme of the hotel, which is encapsulated in the concept of “The Dream of Istanbul,” that draws together the lobby, lobby lounge, the Champagne Room, Spa and other corners of the property. The location connects to the Zorlu Center, a highly energized and reimagined bazaar of high fashion, fine dining and performance art in the Besiktas district of Istanbul.

The 185-room-and-suite hotel is a beacon of the city’s historic and continued grandeur, all highlighted by some 224 curated pieces by local and international artists. Raffles Istanbul recently began offering complimentary guided tours by knowledgeable art historians to those who are interested and willing to commit by making a reservation for the tour.

“Our aim when designing Raffles’ signature spa, the destination restaurant, Isokyo, and the Champagne Room was to reflect the energetic new vibe of  Istanbul as avant-garde, cosmopolitan and full of optimism,” said Inge Moore, principal and creative director of The Gallery HBA, which designed the property’s interiors and guest rooms. “Modern interpretations of ancient artistry and rituals create fresh and welcoming spaces that are in tune with today’s forward-looking guests.”