A Room With a View

9 Hotels with Art Worth Seeing

The main entrance at Casa Malca, Tulum.

Casa Malca
The main entrance at Casa Malca, Tulum.
Ask the curator, not the concierge in these nine hotels with stellar art collections.

Ask the curator, not the concierge in these nine hotels with stellar art collections.

You can’t sleep or take a shower in a museum, but you can in a hotel that surrounds you with museum quality art.

The border between highbrow and lowbrow art no longer requires a passport. The border itself has all but disappeared. The gatekeepers, those esteemed curators hidden in the bowels of museums who only talked to other curators, along with distinguished art critics who could make or break an artists career with a few esoteric paragraphs have morphed into the concierge at the hotel's front desk whose main job is to help you, the guest, feel comfortable. You can't sleep or take a shower in a museum, but you can in a hotel that surrounds you with museum quality art.

Until recently, most hotel architects and planners brought in art at the last minute as a decorative element, usually left up to interior designers and selected to complement the drapes and carpet. But the last decade has seen an increased interest in hotels as a new public sphere for engaging with art, outside the rarified museum and gallery worlds. The art concept hotel was born, melding public space with aesthetic experience, intellectual challenge, and the power of art to ‘shock and awe.’ A cursory search brought over 60 international hotels, each with a unique focus on fine art. A selection of nine worth noting are previewed here.

21c Museum Hotels
Courtesy 21c Museum Hotels

21c Museum Hotels, across the U.S.

21cMuseumHotels.com

Your introduction to the painting of Kehinde Wiley may have come at the unveiling of President Barack Obama’s official portrait. Or, it may have come earlier during a stay at a 21c Museum Hotel, one of nine hotels in the 21c family all situated in Middle America, far from the east and west coast cultural capitals. Wiley is a favorite of husband/wife collectors Steve Wilson and Laura Lee Brown, who founded the 21c art concept hotel in Louisville, Kentucky in 2006. They own four Wileys. A passion for art drove this power couple to collect around the world, eventually amassing over 1,000 works of contemporary art. Combining their desire to share their art with an interest in preserving and revitalizing historic downtown centers, they embarked to transform 19th-century tobacco and Bourbon warehouses into a hotel with art at its core. Wilson and Brown directed architect Deborah Berke to envision a hotel and museum that serves as an oasis, where art challenges and amuses. Guided by their chief curator Alice Gray Stites, the couple oversees the entire collection that has expanded to over 3,000 objects. With their finished projects and more in development, the 21c family of hotels has more than 60,000 square feet of exhibition space to fill with a rotating selection of socially engaged contemporary art. What started as a quirky idea to revitalize one section of downtown Louisville has become a national trend. No one is more surprised by his own success melding art with the hotel concept than Wilson, “I never expected it to be such a big enterprise, to have people identify with it so strongly.”

Ace Hotel Chicago/Atelier Ace
Ace Hotel Chicago/Atelier Ace

Ace Hotel Chicago/Atelier Ace, Chicago and across the U.S.

AceHotel.com/chicago

Ace Hotels are under the visionary umbrella of Atelier Ace, a design firm that “builds brands and engineers culture with substance, intelligence and humanity.” Even their name conjures up images of 19th-century Parisian artists’ studios. With hotel properties in nine cities, including London and New York, Ace promotes a laid back hip vibe reflected in the Bauhaus inspired ambiance of Ace Hotel Chicago, one of the group’s most recent projects. Playing on Chicago’s historical past as a center for industrial design, Ace partnered with Los Angeles based Commune Design and Chicago’s own Volume Gallery to channel the spirit of Chicago’s architectural giant Mies van der Rohe. His modernist approach is captured in the hotel’s walls of windows, dark terrazzo floor, and brick and metal exterior. Volume Gallery’s co-founders, Sam Vinz and Claire Warner were given free reign to place the work of their emerging designers, artists and architects throughout the hotel, drawing as much as possible from local talent. Bauhaus trained textile artist Anni Albers is an inspirational touchstone for weaver Christy Matson and textile artist Tanya Aguiñiga, whose abstract works now grace the lobby and the hotel’s City Mouse restaurant. Art has been at the core of the Ace approach since 1999, when their first project opened in Seattle with a presentation of the work of Shepard Fairey and KAWS. Throughout their nearly two decades of expansion, Ace has stayed true to their roots. While acknowledging that hotels are not museums, they have created public spaces that reflect a respect for art and the people who make it.

Gladstone Hotel
Gladstone Hotel

Gladstone Hotel, Toronto

GladstoneHotel.com

“Get in Bed with Art” is the cheeky invitation that greets you on the Gladstone’s website. Toronto’s oldest continually operating hotel, The Gladstone was originally built in 1889 by Susanna Robinson, a widow who operated and lived at the hotel with her 13 children. The hotel continues to be a family enterprise under the current ownership of the Zeidler family who bought the hotel in 2000. The Gladstone had a reputation for hospitality toward artists and performers right from the start, as it was favorite among vaudeville performers in the early 20th century. A complete restoration of the property was completed in 2005, orchestrated by the hotel’s guiding force, Hotel President Christina Zeidler. A filmmaker, feminist, and artist in her own right she understands the importance of providing an equitable space for artists to show their work. Today, each of the hotels 37 rooms are designed by a different local artist, showcasing the talent that Toronto offers the world. Working artists studios are available for rent in the Gladstone along with the guest rooms, and mingling between artists and guests is encouraged. Art by over 200 artists is displayed throughout the hotel’s four floors of common spaces along with curated exhibitions open to the public in the hotel’s galleries. Artists are invited to submit their work through the hotel’s website and to sell their work directly to hotel guests. The Gladstone does not take any commission from these sales. Forty-seven of the hotel's staff members are artists, making this a most nurturing environment for artists and those who love art.

Conrad New York
Conrad New York

Conrad New York

ConradNewYork.com

Blue is the hallmark of Conrad New York, as in “blue chip” art whose consistent value cannot be denied. Blue is also the color of Loopy Doopy (1999), the site-specific commission by Sol LeWitt rising thirteen stories, overwhelming the hotel atrium like a royal blue Mediterranean Sea at high tide. The LeWitt signals to all who enter this sophisticated Midtown Manhattan luxury hotel that the art you will encounter here is not to be ignored. Like all the other artists shown at the Conrad, LeWitt is an icon.

Orange, the complement of blue, dominates the Conrad’s East entryway by dint of Mennige (Polygon) by the German geometric abstract painter Imi Knoebel. Mennige was painted in 2012 directly on the hotel wall using a red-hued anti-rust paint called mennige. The fact that a number of these high-value works are painted directly on the wall reflects the Conrad’s unflinching belief in the permanent value of their artistic choices. Smaller works by Lynda Benglis, Frank Stella, Georg Baselitz, Jeff Koons, and Julian Schnabel are among the more than 2,000 works of art placed in the hotel’s public spaces and 463 luxury guest suites. The collection was selected in collaboration with the Public Art Fund, New York City’s most active arts organization committed to the public presentation of contemporary art throughout the city.

Casa Malca
Casa Malca

Casa Malca, Tulum, Mexico

CasaMalca.com

New York gallerist Lio Malca has earned his reputation as an art world mover and shaker, collecting and supporting emerging artists since the 1980s. A staple of the New York downtown gallery scene, in 2013 Lio Malca added another outpost to share his collection. In Tulum, Mexico, he bought an eight-room property including what was once a decaying villa rumored to have been built by Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar. With an eye towards preserving the best aspects of the location, Malca transformed it into a stunning 41-room vacation spot for those in the know, including clients of the gallerist. This secluded beachfront property has a distinct exclusive sensibility. The artwork, as well as the furnishings, are an eclectic mix of local traditional Mayan and New York bohemian cool. All the artwork comes from Lio Malca’s private collection, including favorites like Keith Haring and Kenny Scharf.

The Sagamore Hotel
flickr: Phillip Pessar

The Sagamore Hotel, Miami Beach

SagamoreSouthBeach.com

Known as Miami’s art hotel, this iconic structure projected a distinctly nostalgic 1940’s vibe when Ronit Neuman walked into the lobby with her businessman dad a little over a year ago. On impulse, they purchased the hotel and Ms. Neuman, who has a background in art, business, and fashion, was put in charge of re-envisioning the hotel’s relationship with the surrounding community and the larger art world beyond. Miami’s art scene is booming, and Ms. Neumann sees opportunity in working collaboratively with community stakeholders to provide a platform for street art, emerging artists, as well as more established artists and designers. While the hotel is in the midst of major renovations, the Sagamore’s chief art advisor Sebastien Laboureau works to incorporate Ms. Neumann’s vision into the new space. The Miami Beach Art Deco District is the perfect setting for the newly refurbished Sagamore. The first major exhibition to take place under the new management team is The Sagamore Salon. This event is inspired by the original Salon de Paris, and it’s counterpart, the Salon de Refuses. Artwork from local and international artists pack the walls of the hotel’s arcade from June 2018 through the end of September. Guests of the hotel will be encouraged to discover new favorites from those artists whose work finds a home on the walls of the Sagamore. 

The Surrey, New York
flickr: Beth Ferreira

The Surrey, New York

TheSurrey.com

Privacy is the key word in understanding the service and ambiance provided at this boutique hotel on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. Built in 1926 as a residential hotel, The Surrey provided discreet shelter to JFK, Bette Davis, Claudette Colbert and many others who sought respite from the crowds. In a more recent phase of the hotel’s life, interior designer Lauren Rottet has acquired some of the most recognizable names in contemporary art to add some drama to the Surrey experience. Major work by eleven artists are featured in the hotel’s collection. The dramatic black and white tapestry portrait of Kate Moss by Chuck Close dominates the lobby. Projections by Jenny Holzer, a Claus Oldenburg drawing, a video installation by the South African artist William Kentridge, and the Smoke Rings Suite by Donald Sultan, are among works that grace the walls of The Surrey. Hotel guests can be confident they will encounter carefully vetted art that offers intellectual challenges as well as beautiful decor.

Hotel Des Arts San Francisco
flickr: Jennifer Morrow

Hotel Des Arts San Francisco

SFHotelDesArts.com

If your dream is to spend the night literally inside a work of art, then San Francisco’s Hotel Des Arts is for you. Located in Union Square, this hotel vibrates with creative energy. Every one of the 51 guest rooms is unique and surprisingly affordable. Thirty-eight local, as well as internationally known artists, were each designated a room where they could let their creativity fly. When it opened in 2005, some of the rooms attracted unwanted controversy. Room 404 consisted of huge Louis Vuitton logos and an image of Madonna by artist Tim Gaskin. The Louis Vuitton Corporation sent a cease and desist letter to the hotel, ordering them to remove the painting. The hotel resisted and instead held a public exhibition with the room as the subject, a surefire way to call attention.

The Exhibitionist Hotel by TheKeyCollection
The Exhibitionist Hotel by TheKeyCollection

The Exhibitionist Hotel by TheKeyCollection, London

TheExhibitionistHotel.com

A sculpted bull greets guests at the entrance to The Exhibitionist Hotel by TheKeyCollection, a signal that the art you find inside may challenge your preconceptions about what art is or isn’t. Located in London’s South Kensington district, within walking distance of the Royal Albert Hall, the Saatchi Gallery, and the Victoria and Albert Museum the hotel offers many opportunities to immerse yourself in a cultural experience both inside and outside its walls. Vestalia Chilton is the resident curator and the founder of Attollo Art, a company dedicated to making art accessible to wider audiences.

Color is the defining design element that differentiates one room from another at The Exhibitionist by TheKeyCollection. Each of the four floors of the hotel has an art corridor designed by a different artist. A dramatic mural by Karis Knight was inspired by the Utopian Cities Art Deco Movement and fills the main stairwell. Bi-monthly exhibitions are held in the lobby and restaurant of the hotel showcasing a wide range of work. Programming for guests and the general public includes debates and discussions inspired by the changing art on display at The Exhibitionist by TheKeyCollection. Their current exhibition, A Lot on my Plate, features upcycled vintage ceramics by designer Debbie Carne, on view through September.

About the Author

Cynthia Close

With an MFA from Boston University, Cynthia Close was an instructor in drawing and painting, Dean of Admissions at The Art Institute of Boston, founder of ARTWORKS Consulting, and former executive director/president of Documentary Educational Resources, a film company. She was the inaugural art editor for the literary and art journal Mud Season Review. She now writes about art and culture for several publications.