DENVER — The 22,000 lights over the entrance, designed by Leo Villareal, the artist behind the San Francisco Bay Bridge “Bay Lights” installation, blink a pattern that never repeats.
Just inside is a specially commissioned 21-foot wall drawing by Sol LeWitt, an abstract impressionist piece by Sam Francis in the style of Mark Rothko and Jackson Pollock, and huge “gold nuggets” hung on a wall that evoke the Colorado gold rush.
These and the many other carefully curated works of art are neatly labeled with the names of the artists and other information, and lead to an elevator on which passengers are treated to a mesmerizing video by William Wegman of his Weimaraner Flo.
Guests arriving at the ART Hotel encounter not a lobby, but a gallery of art, part of a fast-moving trend by which hotels are striving to distinguish themselves in a crowded market.
“We’re not just a hotel,” said Aaron Bajorek, general manager, standing in front of the Lewitt. “We’re a mini art museum.”
Hotels are adding large and noteworthy collections of art — usually by local artists or representing local culture — to better connect with their communities, attract increasingly important neighborhood business for their restaurants and bars and provoke the kind of social media attention that has become essential in the tourism industry.
“Today’s travelers are way more socially connected and more discerning,” said Helen Chun, an associate professor at the School of Hotel Administration at Cornell University. “They have higher expectations. And creating comfortable guest rooms and pleasing lobbies is no longer enough.”
In the past, art in hotels “was really just pretty generic,” said Michael Collier, a gallery owner who helped fill the Hermosa Inn in Scottsdale, Ariz., with the works of “cowboy artist” Lon Megargee. “It just adds to the flavor and romance of the place.”
You can sleep with a Pablo Picasso at the Conrad Indianapolis, which has four “Collections Suites” with original Picassos, Salvador Dalís and Andy Warhols; the suites start at $699 a night. There’s a Picasso in a room at the Rosewood Miramar Beach in California, too, which also has a Frank Stella, a Joan Miró, a Marc Chagall, and a Normal Rockwell. The nine 21c Museum Hotels collectively exhibit what the company calls the largest public collection of 21st-century art.
“It’s not just about leveraging the art to make your business successful. People are looking for meaning and connection at a time of so much uncertainty,” said 21c chief curator and museum director Alice Gray Stites.
The Blake at Taos Ski Valley boasts a Georgia O’Keeffe. There’s a Robert Rauschenberg and a Jennifer Bartlett among the 120 original pieces of modern and pop at the White Elephant Palm Beach. The art at the Grand Wailea in Maui is valued at more than $30 million and includes pieces by sculptor Fernando Botero and artist Fernand Léger.
You can admire a Calder at the newly opened ModernHaus SoHo in New York, and a Degas at the Perry Lane in Savannah, Ga., built around a back story about a fictional benefactor who left Savannah to travel the world as a dancer.
“Art can evoke feeling and create conversation,” said Andrea Locorini, the Perry Lane’s marketing and social media manager, “so the art becomes part of your vacation, part of the experience.”
The Banneker, which debuted in Washington, D.C., in June and is named for the Black surveyor who helped lay out the district, includes abstract artwork in the rooms and public areas, including a mural in the lobby by Victor Ekpuk, who is also on exhibit in the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art.
“When there is a collection that’s intentionally selected for the hotel and the location, the hotel can take on a little deeper connection for the clients,” said Anna Wunderlich, the Banneker’s curator.
As this trend expands, hotels are becoming “basically museums with bedrooms,” said Matthew Whitaker, director of the high-end hospitality industry art consultancy Canvas.
“They’re trying to establish a sense of place,” he said. ”And that happens more provocatively and evocatively through art.”
Denver is a hotbed of this.
Across town from the ART, in the emerging Lower Downtown, or LoDo, district, the former director of the nearby Museum of Contemporary Art was hired to commission 300 works by local artists for the public spaces and guest rooms of the Hotel Born. At The Maven, a 10-foot open hand made by a Colorado sculptor out of reclaimed wood hangs from the ceiling just inside the front doors, the biggest of some 700 original pieces of art in the hotel and connected block of restaurants and shops.
“It’s kind of the concept of surprise and delight,” said Martha Weidman, CEO of Nine dot Arts, as she provided a tour of the singular pieces curated here by her Denver-based company that’s among the many springing up to help hotels collect and display art.
Many of these hotels have teamed up with art museums and schools. The Art Ovation Hotel in Sarasota, Fla., shows work from the Ringling College of Art and Design; the Delamar in West Hartford, from the New Britain Museum of American Art; the Hotel Theodore in Seattle, photography and patent drawings from that city’s Museum of History & Industry; the new Seabird Resort and Mission Pacific Hotel, rotating selections by southern California artists from the Oceanside Museum of Art; and the Confidante Miami Beach, graffiti from the Museum of Graffiti. At the citizenM in New York City’s Bowery, art from the Museum of Street Art fills a 20-story stairway.
Others are in art destinations. The ART adjoins the Denver Art Museum, whose former curator of modern and contemporary art mounted its collection. The 250 Main in Rockland, Maine, walking distance from the Farnsworth Art Museum and new Center for Maine Contemporary Art, displays works by contemporary Maine artists. Art including pieces by Jenny Holzer and David Hockney from the Cornell Fine Arts Museum at Rollins College rotates through the Alfond Inn in Winter Park, Fla.
In other cases, art in hotels comes from the private collections of their wealthy owners.
The works at The Post Oak Hotel in Houston — including by Stella and Robert Motherwell — are from the collection of billionaire owner Tilman Fertitta, who also owns the Houston Rockets and the parent company of Del Frisco’s and Morton’s steakhouses and McCormick & Schmick’s.
The Joule, in Dallas, which features art by Warhol and others, is owned by real estate billionaire and art collector Timothy Headington; Triple Creek Ranch in Montana, by former Intel CEO Craig Barrett and his wife, Barbara, whose contemporary art and works by classic western artists such as Frederic Remington fill the hotel.
Many of the pieces in the ART were loaned by its development partner, private equity investor J. Landis Martin. The 21c was founded by longtime Louisville art collectors Steve Wilson and Laura Lee Brown. The newly opened Ameswell in Silicon Valley is owned by Philip Maritz, a board member of the Metropolitan Museum of Art who curated the hotel’s permanent collection of contemporary works. The Pizzuti real estate dynasty loaned some of its art to The Joseph, a hotel it developed in Nashville.
The just-reopened Gansevoort in New York’s trendy Meatpacking District has added an expansive art collection drawn from the collection of president and founder Michael Achenbaum, including a Banksy in the lobby.
And the Provenance hotels, whose locations in the Midwest, New Orleans, and Pacific Northwest (including Seattle’s Theodore) feature noteworthy art by the likes of Dale Chihuly (Hotel Murano, Tacoma) and Warhol (Hotel Max, Seattle), draw in part from the private collection of CEO Katherine Durant, which includes works by Roy Lichtenstein and Robert Colescott.
Original art can also help differentiate hotels at a time when some are blandly indistinguishable.
“There’s nothing more underwhelming than waking up in a hotel and wondering, ‘Where am I today?’” said Aliya Khan, vice president for global design strategies at Marriott International.
Look closely and you’ll find that the Art Ovation is a Marriott, the ART Hotel is part of the Hilton Curio division, the Born and Banneker are Kimptons, The Maven is owned by Sage and the Confidante and Oceanside are Hyatts.
Instead of a homogeneous chain, said Robin Chadha, chief marketing officer at citizenM, a hotel with distinctive art makes guests feel “like they are at a friend’s apartment.”
And, said Khan, to actually remember the visit.
“I want you to think back to our hotel — ‘That’s the hotel that had the sculpture,’” she said.
Jon Marcus can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.