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Commentary: Hotels Doubling As Art Galleries Is A Growing Trend

Nancy Kranzberg

The idea of having art displayed in hotels is not so unusual. The unusual thing is that many hotels around the world in this day and age actually double as art galleries and many guests actually pay attention to the works of art.

Just within this past year, I've been lucky enough to "snooze away" at three of them. I just returned from the 21c Museum Hotel in Durham, North Carolina.

21c Museum is a multi-venue museum located in eight cities. One of the largest contemporary art museums in the U.S., and North America's only collecting museum dedicated solely to art of the 21st century, each property features exhibition space open free of charge to the public, combined with a boutique hotel and chef-driven restaurant. It was founded in 2006 by Laura Lee Brown and Steve Wilson, philanthropists, preservationists and collectors committed to expanding access to contemporary art as a means of catalyzing revitalization and civic connection. 21c presents a range of arts programming curated by Museum Director, Chief Curator Alice Gray Stiles, including both solo and group exhibitions that reflect the global nature of art today, as well as site specific, commissioned installations, and a variety of cultural events. The organization collaborates on arts initiatives with artists and organizations worldwide, including North Carolina Museum of Art, MASS MoCA, Contemporary Art Museum Houston, The Barnes Foundation, Contemporary Arts Center, Cincinnati, Creative Capital Foundation, Creative Time, and others.

I walked into the hotel and was greeted by a Kehinde Wiley portrait. He of course is the artist who was commissioned to do President Obama's official portrait and recently had a solo exhibition at the St. Louis Art Museum. The works of art all had text panels which talked about each work and if that wasn't enough, every hotel room had a channel on the television with artist talking about their work. And St. Louis will have a 21c hotel in the next couple of years.

Earlier in the year, I visited The Faena Hotel in Miami Beach, Florida. A couple of articles in Forbes Magazine caught my eye in regards to the Faena. The first was written by Ann Abel who says, "A hotel is an emotional experience. That's one of the truisms they teach in hospitality school, and in the case of the new Faena Hotel in Miami Beach, the idea is spot on. The primary emotion, an aesthetically minded person experiences at The Faena is joy.” David Colman of the New York Times talks of a piece that was unveiled at Art Basil. The artist Raul de Nieves produced a carousel. He says, "The new work is more than a showstopper: life size, fully functional carousel commissioned by the Art Production Fund and Bulgari. It is quite a spectacle: 16 feet wide, with circling beasts plastered and piled with gleaming handfuls of the artist's favorite glittering tiny plastic beads.”

There is art all around the lobby, restaurant, in the rooms and on the patios, and now in the Faena Forum. Alan Faena and OMA (Office of Metropolitan Architecture) has expanded across the street from the hotel to include the Faena Forum, a 50,000 square foot space set to host art exhibitions, concerts, lectures, dance performances and theater.

And St. Louis can once again hold its head high with our new Angad Arts Hotel in Grand Center. It’s a wholly new hospitality experience that embraces the visual arts, performance, fashion, literature and gastronomy, ideally located in the heart of St. Louis’ Grand Center Arts District. Chandler Branch, Executive Director of Art St. Louis says, "Angad Arts Hotel is exceptional even within the world of art hotels in its broad embrace of all the arts, on-going art programming and events, and most of all the fact that the hotel's extensive visual arts collection is so strongly focused on contemporary artists at work in the St. Louis region. Very few development projects of this scale support local art at such a high level.” 

It is the first hotel in the world where guests are able to book their luxury accommodations not only by room type, but also by emotion of color. You may choose your room type by how you are feeling at the moment, whether your choice is passionate red, tranquility blue, a happy yellow or green. You have your pick.

And on the itinerary of a future trip to Israel is the Elma Arts Complex Luxury Hotel. As uplifting for the soul as it is relaxing for the body, the Elma Arts Hotel in Zickron Ya'akov was built on the belief that when you stay with art, the art stays with you long after you leave. Designed by award winning architect Yaakov Rechter and the vision of arts patron, Lily Elstein, it is unique in Israel: a complex entirely dedicated to the arts. Every form of artistic expression is celebrated at Elma.

The brochure for the Elma says art should be a part of every day--even every moment. I agree.


Nancy Kranzberg has been involved in the arts community for more than thirty years on numerous arts related boards.