The expansion of the cultural experience from museum, theatre or even home to other, less usual public venues can be seen in few better places than in the modern rise of the art hotel. The expanding choice in recent years is welcome, though it can be tricky to find one that matches your expectations.
We present 15 of our favourites for you to mull over, ranging from a classy Cape Town villa that showcases generations of South African artists to the Art Series Hotels that have made a big impact in several Australian cities. Others of equal note take us to the US, Hong Kong, Singapore and across Europe.
The Cullen, Melbourne
When it first appeared in 2009, The Art Series Hotels group had two complementary aims: to open high-class hotels and to showcase some of the finest talent in Australian contemporary art. It quickly established a reputation for doing both. The first to open was The Cullen, in Melbourne, and it was immediately clear that the art was centre stage, not an add-on. Curator Jane O’Neill went as far as to say that “The art is the springboard for all other decisions.” Artist Adam Cullen died in 2012, and since then the hotel has been a tribute to his work.
The Watson, Adelaide
The Olsen and The Blackman also opened in Melbourne in 2010, but a more recent Art Series Hotels opening is Adelaide’s The Watson, named after artist Tommy Watson, in 2014. As is now familiar, the open-plan suites, classy restaurant, pool, gym and conference facilities are meant to complement the work of Watson, the focal point of a stay here. As a showcase for his works, the hotel has numerous of his originals and prints throughout. Guests can join a guided Watson tour, browse the art library and even watch a dedicated art channel on their room TVs. The Series now comprises six hotels, soon to be joined by a seventh, The (Michael) Johnson, in Brisbane.
New Majestic Hotel, Singapore
Billed as “Singapore’s First Design Hotel”, the New Majestic Hotel certainly strikes a chord with its style. Created within a traditional building in the city’s Chinatown, it comprises a number of influences that encompass a century of art and design. For example, spaces contain Singaporean furniture from the 1920s to the 1960s; in collaboration with Asian Art Options, nine local emerging contemporary artists from Singapore adorn various hotel spaces. And as with many of the best art hotels, the new, fresh art is site-specific to the New Majestic. Moreover, the hotel has five ‘concept rooms’, with the likes of fashion designer Wykidd Song and graphic designer Theseus Chan realising their unique ideas in a room.
Le Negresco, Nice, France
Located on the coastal road from Nice airport, close to the old town, Hotel Negresco looks out across the Promenade des Anglais. Perfectly situated, it’s just 25 kilometres from Monaco, and minutes to the Matisse Museum, the Chagall Museum and the Modern Art and Contemporary Art Museum. The hotel has been here since 1913, and its palatial architecture alone has ensured it has been a spectacular destination ever since. Today, with 96 rooms and 21 suites, Negresco is home to more than 6,000 art works and five centuries’ worth of period furniture. Moreover, the hotel puts on various live music events, has a Michelin-star chef and features the colourful La Rotonde Brasserie with an 18th-century carousel – not forgetting Le Negresco’s Bar, replete with original 1913 wooden features and a tapestry dating to 1683.
Le Collatéral, Arles, France
With just four rooms, Le Collatéral doesn’t seem to be affected by delusions of grandeur, though it nevertheless impresses with its tasteful but sheer cool-as-you-like spaces. Created in a former medieval church, owners Anne-Laurence Schiepan and husband Philippe have created a cultural centre for artist residencies, exhibitions and workshops. Garish colours and lights are eschewed in favour of bare concrete and brickworks, wooden and metal staircases, and an abundance of minimalist or geometric-shaped furniture and features. Commissioned works include art by Reeve Schumacher and Erick Helaine, and there’s a 35-square-metre library. In short, Le Collatéral can be said to provide something of an elegant counterpoint to over-sized, over-designed hotels.
Le Meridien Chambers Minneapolis, US
Le Méridien Chambers Minneapolis is a self-styled “exclusive art hotel”, aiming to provide a choice of cultural experiences within – but also outside – the confines of the hotel. The lobby, rooms and other spaces were specifically designed to showcase the hotel’s 200 contemporary works of art, including by Damien Hirst, Tracey Emin and Gary Hume of the so-called Young British Artists. Its city-centre, theatre-district location is well chosen, and guests can amble from the hotel to the nearby Minnesota Orchestra and Sculpture Garden, both within a mile. The hotel’s tie-up with the nearby Walker Art Center as part of its Unlock Art concept carries obvious appeal – guests present their ‘artist-designed key card’ at the museum to access various art programmes and events.
21c Museum Hotels, Louisville, US
In the decade since Laura Lee Brown and Steve Wilson opened their 21c Museum Hotel in Louisville, Kentucky, its ambitions have risen to provide similar concepts to various other US locations, which now include Cincinnati, Bentonville, Durham, Lexington and Oklahoma City. Each 21c Museum Hotel restaurant offers its own distinct cuisine and food specialities. And each hotel exhibits its own collections of 21-st-century art works by up-and-coming and well-established talents. The line-up in Louisville, for example, includes Yinka Shonibare, Andres Serrano, Kara Walker and Bill Viola. Each hotel additionally puts on a feast of cultural events, from films and music to artist talks and poetry readings.
Blumen Haus Lech, Austria
Though life can sometimes appear to move slowly across the European Alpine region, there are also plenty of examples where cutting-edge art and design thrive. As Blumen Haus Lech will highlight when it opens in early December 2016, this can sometimes be in intelligent combination with a more traditional Alpine chic. Blumen Haus is located in Austria, and it leans heavily on traditional Alpine architecture for its style, albeit with a modern take. Vienna’s Contemporary Art Advisors have chosen works by the likes of Roy Lichtenstein to adorn the hotel’s walls, alongside emerging artists, which will change with the seasons. In addition, curators, museum directors and collectors will host frequent so-called Art Summits at the hotel.
blumenhauslech.com [Photos: mxllab.net]
Ellerman House, Cape Town, South Africa
The scope of art at Ellerman House is impressive enough, from the early 19th century pretty much to the present day. But it is when considered with the refined surroundings of this mid-19th-century villa that it all makes perfect sense. Located on the Cape Town coast, Ellerman is a boutique establishment from its neo-colonial architecture down to its size: just 11 rooms and two suites, plus a couple of modern three-bedroom villas, with every room individually designed and furnished. Yes, there is a wine cellar and Champagne cellar, but art fans are here primarily for the Contemporary Art Gallery and other spaces with works around the house. After taking in the likes of artists such as Lionel Smith and Thomas Bowler, guests will get a personalised tour of public galleries across Cape Town from Ellerman House’s art guide.
The Swatch Art Peace Hotel Shanghai, China
You don’t have to be a Swatch aficionado to enjoy the Swatch Art Peace Hotel, though undeniably it would help. There has long been an artistic central core to Swatch, brought clearly into focus way back in 1984 when the Swiss watch firm commissioned French artist Kiki Picasso to design the inaugural Swatch Art Special watch. The likes of designer Vivienne Westwood and musician Moby are just two creative types who have contributed to Swatch Art Specials. Located in Shanghai, the Swatch Art Peace Hotel is housed in the 1908-built former Palace Hotel. It boasts an artist residency programme, while guests can stay in suites and rooms where art is created live, and take in exhibitions and open studio events.
Hotel Arts Barcelona, Spain
The 56-metre-long curving, fish-like sculpture of the Frank Gehry-designed Peix outside Hotel Arts Barcelona is only a prelude to what guests can expect when they book a few days here. Perfectly located 300 metres from the sandy shore in the Catalan capital’s Olympic Village, this structure opens up to the 44-storey, 455-room and 28-suite exposed glass and steel towering hotel. On top of its much-vaunted architecture, guests can expect to take in a significant collection of Catalan and wider Spanish works of art. The hotel puts on major exhibitions, recently starring Picasso and Dalí, and the more contemporary Ràfols-Casamada and Xavier Corberó.
Le Royal Monceau, Paris, France
After its comprehensive renovation by designer Philippe Starck, Le Royal Monceau offers guests a refined artistic – and musical – experience. The history of this 149-room Parisian hotel can be traced back to its Haussmann-era architecture, taking in art deco influences and the hotel’s original opening in the 1930s. Thoroughly modernised, though always with a close eye on its heritage, it is now home to a 99-seat cinema and its own Art District gallery. While the gallery hosts contemporary artists, guests can also call upon the hotel’s art concierge for help and advice. It’s not only art that plays a role at Le Royal Monceau, however – for the musically inclined, talented or not, every room has an acoustic guitar.
Rome Cavalieri, Rome, Italy
The claim by the Rome Cavalieri hotel to be one of the best art hotels in the world has considerable merit. Of course, these things are subjective, but with artworks that include masters from the 16th century and stretch to Rudolf Nureyev’s ballet garb, who’s to argue? Especially when, on wandering through the hotel entrance, you are met by the stunning sight of Giambattista Tiepolo’s cycle masterpiece featuring Achilles and Ulysses. And then there are the hugely significant Beauvais tapestries. It’s not all about the distant past, however – head over to the hotel’s collection of pop art and take in works by Andy Warhol and Robert Indiana. And, of course, Nureyev’s ballet costumes are among the 1,000 or so other objects here.
The Exhibitionist Hotel, London, UK
London’s South Kensington is home to an array of cultural attractions: the Royal Albert Hall, the Saatchi Gallery and some of the city’s premier museums, starting with the Victoria and Albert. Tucked away here at 10 Queensberry Place is the self-styled Exhibitionist, which as the name suggests is up-front about its intentions. A sculptured bull greets guests at the entrance, setting the tone for the interplay between space and art. From stylishly modern chandeliers and flowered sculptures to pop art wall frescoes and temporary exhibitions, art is integral to every facet of the hotel. Indeed, guests in The Exhibitionist can rely on eight gallery spaces to get their art fix.
J Plus, Hong Kong
In 2014, the Philippe Starck-designed J Plus Hotel in Hong Kong received a renovation to the tune of HKD 10 million. Overseen by Starck’s Yoo Studio designers, it included commissioning four graffiti artists to take on a “two-week makeover of the exterior”. Clearly, J Plus would have a slightly new trajectory. An example is Rupa, a show put on by graffiti artist Fansack, who hails from Chengdu, but is now Paris-based. Fansack’s show is a celebration of local and French cultural influences on the overall design of the hotel, providing continuity with Starck’s original concept.
Article by Paul Wheatley
Aesthete or philistine? What is your personal take on the ongoing trend for art hotels?