Hubert Burda Media

Hotels: the new art galleries

These hotels aren’t just luxurious destinations to lay your head, but also private art galleries.

An undulating mirrored glass and metal sculpture by Jean-Michel Othoniel is the first large-scale artwork that greets the discerning art lover at the Sheraton Grand Jakarta Gandaria City Hotel. Prominently suspended over the floral centrepiece in the hotel’s spacious lobby, the Double Lacan Knot has been exhibited in some of the world’s premier art institutes including Paris’s Centre Pompidou and the Brooklyn Museum in New York before finding its permanent home in Jakarta.

Venture further into the hotel and one soon realises that the Othoniel is but a precursor to the wealth of masterpieces scattered through the hotel. At the hotel’s ballroom lobby, Robert Indiana’s seminal Love sculpture takes pride of place while Yayoi Kusama’s great gigantic pumpkin stands casually in the middle of the bustling adjoining Gandaria City Mall, which is part of the same development. All these pieces belong to the personal collection of Gandaria City Chairman Alexander Tedja, a prolific art collector who is also a patron of Indonesian artists including Hendra Gunawan, Affandi, and Arin Sunaryo, whose pieces are also on display in the hotel’s public spaces and rooms.


Yayoi Kusama's pumpkin sculpture at the Sheraton Grand Jakarta Gandaria City Hotel

Yayoi Kusama's pumpkin sculpture at the Sheraton Grand Jakarta Gandaria City Hotel

Sleeping With Fine Art

As more discerning hoteliers such as Tedja showcase their eclectic and exquisite personal taste in art in the properties they own, globetrotting art aficionados these days are increasingly spoilt for choice when they travel.

From the tastefully decorated El Fenn in Marrakech, Morocco that features artwork from the personal collection of owner Vanessa Branson, to the Hotel Eclat in Beijing, which is said to have one of the world’s most impressive private modern art collections with works from Salvador Dali and Andy Warhol decorating the space, it really isn’t a stretch of the imagination for a luxury nomad to say he is checking into a museum for the night.

James Lohan, founder and executive chairman of Mr & Mrs Smith, observes: “Hotel visitors want to feel at home when they travel, but at the same time, they want an experience that gives them something more than they get at home — they want to be wowed. Hotels with art and character give more to write home about; an experience to share and one that creates a memorable experience.”

“For example, The Beaumont in London has Room, a unique sculpture-cum-suite designed by Antony Gormley which guests can stay in — a pretty incredible experience,” he says. “More and more hotels are commissioning kinetic art. There’s Hotel Healdsburg in California that has Spoonfall, a fountain made out of espresso spoons which I love for the sound it makes.”

Certainly, hoteliers are sparing no effort in differentiating their properties in an increasingly crowded hospitality scene. At the Sheraton Grand Jakarta Gandaria City Hotel, Tedja acknowledges that curating the art in his hotel is of utmost importance. “The Love sculpture, for instance, is located in the ballroom lobby because of the number of weddings that are held at the venue,” he is once quoted as saying. “But most of the paintings are hung at the hotel because of its visuals and the time people have to admire them. Sculptures can mostly be found at the shopping centre because of the space needed and the fact that people love taking pictures alongside them.”

In fact, the Indonesian businessman is so invested in identifying the perfect placements for his pieces, quips hotel General Manager Richard Suter, that he is known to call the hotel up while on art acquisition trips to obtain exact measurements of spaces he thinks will suit the display of a work.


Antony Gormley's "Room" at the Beaumont in London

Antony Gormley's "Room" at the Beaumont in London

Community Involvement

Beyond art as a design element, hotels are also finding other ways to get guests involved with the local art scene. “The obvious reasons are, of course, to stand out from the noise and to be seen to be supporting a good cause and art is often always the easiest,” observes Ethan Low, founder of Bespokcracy, an arts, design and culture-focused travel planning firm. “Today’s socially conscious traveller wants to stay at properties that are contributing to their environment and being an integral part of the city that they are in.” In the US, the 21c Museum Hotels group, which has properties in Louisville, Cincinnati and Oklahoma City, was launched by philanthropists and art collectors Laura Lee Brown and Steven Wilson with a mission to breathe new life into historic buildings in these towns while supporting the contemporary art scene.

They have commissioned site-specific works for their properties and hold frequent collaborations with art institutions around the country by either hosting travelling exhibitions in the hotels or by loaning these institutions’ works from their personal collection. By all accounts, they have succeeded in their aim — hotels under 21c Museum have been featured extensively in international publications including Travel + Leisure, The New York Times and National Geographic Traveler, while its first hotel, the 21c Museum Hotel Louisville, has been voted by Conde Nast Traveler readers into the Top Ten Hotels in the World list.

Taking this concept even further are hotels that offer art tours and concierge services dedicated to art and architecture. Says Low: “James Hotel in Chicago, for example, has a public art programme, which sees them working with curators to beautify their public spaces.”

In Singapore, Low cites the soon-to-open The Patina, Capitol Singapore as an example of a hotel that is reaching out to art lovers via its 360-degrees concierge programme. “It will have a huge art component as they capitalise on the fact that they are in the arts district of Singapore,” he says


Art Suite at Hotel Vagabond

Art Suite at Hotel Vagabond

More Than Eye Candy

In the near future, travellers can expect a shift from paintings and sculpture to more interactive art as hotels seek to create an ever-more immersive and memorable stay.

Lohan says: “The appeal of art you can get involved with, such as the large basketball Plinko game wall in the lobby of Hotel Zetta San Francisco, is about guests wanting a more surprising and interactive experience. I’ve seen plenty of digital art coming in to hotel design, such as the videos in the lifts at The Standard, High Line in New York and the mesmerising clock at London’s Ham Yard — it’s a fun piece to look at while you’re waiting for the lift!”

“Conveniently, visual platforms like Instagram have meant that having something photogenic in your property also does wonders for your organic social media marketing,” he adds.

With the first artist-in-residence programme in Singapore situated at the Hôtel Vagabond, the lines between artist and observer are becoming ever more blurred. Artists who are accepted into this programme are hosted at the hotel and are given opportunities to meet and greet hotel guests at the bar each evening.

Its owner Satinder Garcha, founder of Garcha Hotels, says he wishes to inspire a better understanding and appreciation for art through this artist residency programme. “It’s easy for anyone to fill up a space with static displays, but art can only flourish where there’s a give and take between artists and their audience. I wanted to make the understanding of artist’s creative processes more accessible to the public and what better way than if they ask the artist themselves?”

In a nod to the hotel’s inclusive ethos, it has hosted a diverse range of artists from various disciplines, including multimedia artist Julia Calfee, DJ and producer Phoebe d’Abo and chef Aakriti Singh. In August, Hong Kong-based performance artist Kate March took up a two-month residency and is curating the hotel’s Expect the Unexpected dinner theatre performance that is a part of the events line-up for the Singapore Grand Prix.

“Everyone benefits,” notes Garcha. “The artist and their art is better understood and more widely appreciated, and the public is in turn inspired by something new. We like having performance artists over as it’s an art form that’s less well-known and they always seem better at communicating with our guests too.”

Of course, the hotel features a correspondingly lavish and visually appealing selection of art, including a rhinoceros-shaped reception desk, which was handcrafted by the Allahbuksh family who have traditionally created the armour of the Rajasthani royal family. Garcha has also contributed some personal pieces, such as an original photograph by Leon Ferrari, while the hotel rooms feature photographs he has taken while on personal travels.

But while Garcha encourages guests to embrace the art wholeheartedly while they are staying at the hotel, how would he react to those who wish to enjoy the ultimate immersive experience — by bringing the art home with them?

“Some have asked, but I won’t sell a single piece,” he says.  “Unless, of course, they give me an offer I can’t refuse.”