Original Article courtesy of The Wall Street Journal, March 6, 2015. By Deborah Dunn.
When Steve Wynn, who collects blue-chip canvases as ardently as he does casinos, first hung his French Impressionist works at the Bellagio, in Las Vegas, hotels with capital-s Serious art collections were as rare as a water lily in the Nevada desert. Almost 20 years later, properties around the globe are jumping on the art bandwagon, hiring curators, courting prominent artists and scattering pieces—priceless and otherwise—all over their properties.
Last month, the Langham hotel group announced that its $2 million acquisition of works by painter Alex Katz would be the centerpiece of a permanent collection at Manhattan’s Langham Palace starting in September, after a major renovation. The new Park Hyatt New York displays works by some of the same big-deal names on display a few blocks away at the Museum of Modern Art, including Richard Serra, Ellsworth Kelly and Sol LeWitt. And just last week Starwood Hotels said that video installations by photographer (and Instagram celebrity) Gray Malin will soon be seen at every Le Meridien.
Jan D. Freitag, a senior vice president at hotel-industry research firm STR, in Hendersonville, Tenn., said this growing obsession with original artwork is just the latest incarnation of the ongoing “lifestyle marketing” trend (food is so yesterday): “Hotels are trying to be more than just gray boxes with beige carpets,” Mr. Freitag said. “It’s all about making the stay memorable.”
Of course, the more memorable the art, the bigger the risk. The Le Meridien Chambers hotel in Minneapolis features many works that could be described as an acquired taste, like Gavin Turk ’s sculpted garbage bags. At Paris’s Le Royal Monceau, which once exhibited Jeff Koons ’s “Balloon Venus” sculpture, general manager Serge Ethuin said that guests often have a love-hate relationship with the hotel’s edgy approach to art. “But we like to take that risk—we are really trying to sell emotion, and the art contributes to the emotional experience,” he added.
That sort of daring approach is welcomed by Donna Rosen, a trustee at New York’s Whitney Museum of Art who travels much of the year (and has been known to take all of the artwork off her hotel room walls and stick it under the bed to eliminate the “visual litter”). Ms. Rosen remembers her disappointment when she visited an “art hotel” in Barcelona. “It was art for art’s sake, as it is at many hotels,” she recalled. But she noted that things may be looking up. “I walked into [New York’s] Carlyle the other day and there was a Cindy Sherman photograph, which is not exactly what you would call decorative. I thought—Bravo!”
Mr. Katz said that while he has never given much thought to hotel art, he’s pleased that some of his oeuvre has found a new home in the lobby at New York’s Langham. “Art should be available to everyone—just like ideas and music and the air. Air is free. Art should be free, too.”
21c Museum Hotel in Louisville, Ky.
Nine years after opening their flagship property in Louisville, Ky., Laura Lee Brown and Steve Wilson will open their fourth 21c Museum Hotel this spring, in Durham, North Carolina. The concept is the same in each: boutique hotels that do double duty as ultramodern art museums (all works are by 21st-century artists). In Louisville, one of the guest rooms itself is an installation titled “Asleep in the Cyclone.”
Le Royal Monceau Raffles in Paris
A 1928 Art Deco beauty, Le Royal Monceau was reimagined and contemporized by Philippe Starck a few years ago. Now it’s a hipster haven, with an art-book shop, a cinema and an art concierge who can suggest exhibits or galleries and arrange after-hours visits to the Picasso Museum, among others. Of the 300 works on display at the hotel, about 280 are fine-art photographs by Guy Le Querrec and Koichiro Doi, among others.
The Waldorf Astoria Cavalieri in Rome
The lone Andy Warhol aside, the hilltop Cavalieri is all about old-school opulence. Its art collection consists of more than 1,000 pieces, all of which would look at home in one of the city’s ancient palazzos: 17th- and 18th-century paintings by Venetian masters, neoclassical sculptures, gilded commodes and a Beauvais tapestry similar to the one hanging at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Le Méridien Chambers in Minneapolis
Ralph Burnet, the owner of this sleek, 60-room hotel and adjacent gallery, is a real estate magnate and voracious collector of conceptual art who owns nearly every piece on display. The permanent and often provocative installations feature stars from the Young British Artists movement (including Tracey Emin and Angus Fairhurst ), while the Burnet Gallery presents a new exhibit every few months. Guests also get free admission at the city’s Walker Art Center.
The Dolder Grand in Zurich
When the century-old Dolder Grand re-emerged after its Norman Foster makeover in 2008, it became a showcase for a wide range of world-class art, with Camille Pissarro ’s “Les Quatre Saisons” and Barry Flanagan ’s “Leaping Hare on Curly Bell” included in its 110-piece collection. “The whole complex lives off this tension of historic and modern,” said Mark Jacob, the hotel’s managing director. “And unlike at a museum, you can spend a few days here, consuming the art at your leisure.”