Travelers like art, and art aficionados like travel. In recent years, this cultural symbiosis has been embraced as a gospel truth in the hospitality industry, as the borders between the worlds of art-appreciation and destination travel continue to evaporate. Now, to actively encourage this trend, hotels across the country have begun envisioning their guest rooms and public spaces as places not just to be soothed by the decor on the walls, as in years past, but also stimulated by it.
As though intending to compete with galleries, luxury — and, in some cases, non-luxury — hotels have reached out to local dealers, curators, and artists for help. In some cases, hotel owners have used their venues to showcase their own collections. The results suggest that designers are using engaging contemporary art more than ever to create enticing, of-the-moment spaces — even if, in this case, the end goal is a ensuring paying guests a good night’s sleep. As a guide for travelers looking to get some culture with their shuteye, here are ARTINFO's picks for the ten best art hotels in the United States.
21C Museum Hotel in Louisville, Kentucky
Rooms from $269
Opened in 2006 by whiskey heir and art collector Laura Lee Brown and her husband, Steve Wilson, this 90-room boutique hotel is perhaps the country’s most seamless blend of luxury lodging and art space. Yinka Shonibare, Chuck Close, and Kehinde Wiley are among the prominent artists withwork currently on display at the former tobacco and bourbon warehouse, where no place is out-of-bounds for the ever-changing arrangements of 21st-century art — including the lobby bathrooms and the sidewalk outside the hotel’s historic brick façade. During check-in at this Louisvillecultural centerpiece, guests are given an iPod with a narrated tour of the collection. The hotel's concept has proven so successful that 21C is now planning future openings in Cincinnati and Austin, Texas.
The James in Chicago
Rooms from $439
Designed by 21C architect Deborah Berke (who has clearly found her niche) and envisioned by W Hotels cofounder Brad Wilson and Equinox gym-chain owner Danny Errico, this hotel overlooking Chicago’s “Magnificent Mile” drips sleek urbanity. It’s got a seriously arty side, too, with prints by photographers like Michael Kenna and Paul Solberg in the corridors and in the 297 minimalist bedrooms, which come with a TV channel devoted to animations by Scandinavian video artist Lars Arrhenius. Shows curated by local gallerist Monique Meloche rotate in and out of the lobby gallery — which also features a permanent sculpture made of vintage suitcases by local artist Joel Ross — and the courtyard has been a regular site for video-art projections since the hotel opened in 2006. The James group has similar plans for the Soho hotel it’s opening this summer, having reportedly enlisted a nonprofit artist collective to design that property’s guest-floor corridors.
Le Méridien Chambers in Minneapolis, Minnesota
Rooms from $309
Twin Cities real-estate developer Ralph Burnet unveiled this pioneering art hotel in 2006, right when the area’s cultural profile was soaring thanks to new projects by celebrated architects Herzog & de Meuron and Jean Nouvel. Burnet took more than 200 works from his YBA-oriented collection — including pieces by Damien Hirst, Tracey Emin, and Sam Taylor-Wood — and put them into guest rooms, public spaces, and an on-site gallery. Since taking over management duties this February, Paris-based Le Méridien has only upped the art-synergy factor, with programs conceived by Palais de Tokyo cofounder Jérôme Sans that include artist-designed keycards and an audiovisual “transitional portal” to ease the passage from street to check-in, all slated to be implemented in coming months.
The Sagamorein Miami, Florida
Rooms from $345
After buying this historic South Beach property about a decade ago, Miami collectors Marty and Cricket Taplin promptly aligned the Sagamore (not to be confused with the storied Victorian hotel of the same name in upstate New York) with the city’s burgeoning contemporary art scene. Since then, it’s emerged amid stiff competition as one of the Collins Avenue strip’s most exciting hotels. (The Delano and the Raleigh are just two of its stylish neighbors.) Works including a Will Ryman sculpture and a striped canvas by Gavin Perry from the all-suite hotel’s permanent collection adorn the walls, and art videos are screened in the 3,000-square-foot backyard garden. To keep things fresh, an occasional new commission also pops up in the hotel from time to time. Since 2001, the Art Basel Miami Beach bonanza has inspired December add-ons ranging from an Olaf Breuning sand sculpture out on the beach to the hotel’s annual Champagne brunch for the art fair's elites.
Hotel des Artsin San Francisco, California
Rooms from $69
Situated at the edge of Chinatown and a short walk from Union Square, this budget hotel is coated in splashy, street-influenced Pop art. The manager enlisted Start Soma gallery owner John Doffing to curate the hotel’s first exhibition in 2004, then had him seek out mostly local artists — including Buff Monster and L.A. muralist David Choe — to transform 38 of the 50 guestrooms into unique, and in most cases extremely colorful, environments. (Some of which are admittedly more conducive to a good night’s sleep than others.) Guns N' Roses fans should check out Room 210: there's a surprise mural courtesy of Shepard Fairey and Tricia Choi.
Crosby Street Hotelin New York, New York
Rooms from $475
Kit Kemps unorthodox, eclectic interior designs are a major reason that Firmdale hotels have sprung up all over the chic quarters of London. Kemp favors British and Irish artists, and for the group’s first stateside property, the 86-room Crosby Street Hotel, she added some striking art to the mix: work by Justine Smith, Jack Milroy, Anselm Kiefer, and Callum Innes, as well as the ten-foot steel sculpture of a human head by Jaume Plensa that greets guests at reception. James Francos “Howl” is one of the many films that has premiered in the basement screening room, and for its fall opening the hotel commissioned a time-lapse film by sculptor and photographer Jean Roman Seyfried that depicts the Crosby’s genesis as a car park.
The Joulein Dallas, Texas
Rooms from $279
Housed in a converted 1927 bank, this 129-room hotel is a stylish blend of neo-Gothic design and modern luxuries. Even more impressive than the Joule’s cantilevered rooftop pool, though, is its art collection, which has been cleverly gathered by local art consultant John Runyon. A Warhol electric-chair print hangs above the espresso station — get it? — and there’s a Richard Phillips painting of a giant female eye at one end of the elevator lobby. Sculptures by Saint Clair Cemin and Barry Flanagan help liven up the public spaces, and the downtown location is about a 15-minute walk north of the new Center for the Performing Arts, designed by Norman Foster and Rem Koolhas.
The Ace Hotelin Portland, Oregon
Rooms from $145
Recent openings in New York and Palm Springs have just about confirmed Ace as the modern hipster’s preferred hotel chain. Graphic art is a key element of the brand’s vintage rock-and-roll aesthetic — in particular at the much-admired Portland property, where the influence of local graffiti and skateboard scenes is literally written on the walls. Artists range from New York-based graphic designer Kenzo Minami to Portlanders such as Carson Ellis (best known for her album covers for The Decemberists) and muralist Brent Wick.
Thunderbird Motel in Marfa, Texas
Rooms from $130
With rooms as spare as the Texan desert that drew Donald Judd here in 1973, the swankiest of the handful of hotels in Marfas' thinly populated art-world outpost isn’t exactly overstuffed with artworks. What there is, though, comes from contemporary artists showing at Judd’s Chinati Foundation, and it’s a great match for the 40-room property’s poured-concrete floors, cowhide rugs, and cactus backdrops. Maybe some bartering with the many painters, sculptors, and other pilgrims who make their way to Marfa would be an effective way for the Thunderbird to beef up its collection?
The Bellagio inLas Vegas, Nevada
Rooms from $159
It’s celebrated more for its giant fountains and "Ocean’s Eleven" stardom, but the Bellagio, which was built in 1998, earned a spot in the history of the modern art hotel when founder Steve Wynn started showing works from his formidable collection in its public spaces a decade ago. They were trucked out when Wynn sold the Bellagio in 2000, but the 3,900-room hotel remains an art-friendly anomaly in a city that isn’t exactly known for its high culture. The Bellagio Gallery has weathered the recent economic downturn — if only the Las Vegas Art Museum or the Venetians Gagosian branch, both now closed, could say the same — and next month will unveil an exhibition of work by artists from Renoir and Picasso to David Hockney and Vanessa Beecroft, undertaken in partnership with the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego and the Boston Museum of Fine Arts. Appropriately for the only art exhibition space on the Strip, the show is devoted to exploring the human form.