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Artbeat: Hotel Art Gets Hip

Alan Shortall

Photo: Alan Shortall

LIKE READ, IRA DRUKIER, AN OWNER OF THE NEWLY opened Chambers hotel in midtown Manhattan, is a serious collector who's translating his passion for art into a business strategy. Located near MOMA and the galleries of West 57th Street, the Chambers' 77 guest rooms mimic artists' lofts: high ceilings and exposed concrete floors in the bathrooms, blackened-steel-and-leather furniture, bedside tables upholstered in canvas. And of course the rooms are crammed with art: more than 500 original works by emerging talents. "We started thinking about pieces for the guest rooms, and then we got carried away," recalls Drukier, who is also a co-owner of the chic Mercer in SoHo. "We began to develop site-specific installations in the hallways and asked David [Rockwell, the hotel's architect] to design the lobby so that art could be moved around and changed."

Drukier tapped consultants Leslie McBride and Adele Abide of New York's Museum Editions Art Advisors to curate what was becoming a substantial collection. "This was a major undertaking," Abide says. "Not too many hotels have all original work in every room." Abide and McBride pored over slides from recent art school grads and visited studios in Chelsea to dig up new talent. They gave each of 14 artists their own elevator landings to do with what they wished. John Newsom created vibrant paintings of fruits and flowers on one floor; on another, Bob and Roberta Smith painted a series of wall texts that make such fashionista-style pronouncements as up is the new down; irascible cult-classic director John Waters contributed photos from the set of his 1998 movie, Pecker. Unfortunately, the Chambers's hallways tend toward the narrow, so these installations don't always look their best. In some cases you wonder if extra space would have helped.

As in Budapest's Art'otel, catalogues in each guest room provide background on the artists and their work. Nothing in the Chambers is for sale, however. "If anyone likes the work, the front desk will refer them to the artists' dealers," Drukier says. "I don't want to be in the art business." And he really doesn't want his hotel overwhelmed with the tour groups that descend on the Budapest Art'otel either. "The lobby might become something of a destination," he concedes, "but we are, after all, a hotel."

Indeed. Though Drukier sees his hotel's focus on emerging artists as a boon to business, many guests who are able to pay $500 for a room don't necessarily want their art chosen for them. What happens if they take an active dislike to the canvases hanging on their wall?Is housekeeping allowed to come take them down?

André Balazs has skirted that problem altogether by embracing one of contemporary art's newest media. The stylish young things at his trendy Standard on L.A.'s Sunset Strip won't find original art in their rooms, but they can head down to the retro-chic lobby to see nonstop video installations by buzz-heavy artists like Vanessa Beecroft and Marco Brambilla. Every six months, curator Yvonne Force rotates the offerings of "The Standard Projection: 24/7." "I tailor the work to the people who stay at the Standard," says Force, referring to the hotel's youthful and chic devotees. Balazs is developing a system whereby guests can watch the lobby videos from the comfort of their rooms, on the in-house "Standard Channel."

LUXURY CHAINS—BESIDES THE RITZ-CARLTON AND THE FOUR SEASONS— are getting in on the act, too. The new 67-story Park Hyatt on Chicago's tony North Michigan Avenue features pieces by three big-name artists: Gerhard Richter, Isamu Noguchi, and Dale Chihuly. The centerpiece of the lobby is Richter's 1968 Piazza del Duomo Milan, a canvas purchased by the Hyatt chain from Sotheby's in 1998 for a reported $3.6 million. Staci Boris, an associate curator for Chicago's Museum of Contemporary Art, selected the art for the public spaces; David Travis, the Chicago Art Institute's curator of photography, chose the work of local photographers for the guest rooms. There's even a designated gallery on the seventh floor.

In New York, developer Forest City Ratner Companies and the Hilton Corporation sought guidance from the Public Art Fund in putting together a $4 million art program for the Hilton's newest properties, the Embassy Suites in Battery Park City and the Hilton Times Square. They liked "the idea of bringing the cultural life of New York into their hotels," says the Public Art Fund's Laura Raicovich.

Though the budget Embassy Suites might not be an obvious destination for art lovers, it should be. In the soaring atrium is Sol LeWitt's specially commissioned 11-story swirl of colors titled Loopy Doopy (Blue and Purple). The lobby has smaller but equally bright murals by Pat Steir. Farther uptown, in Disneyfied Times Square, whimsical sculptures by Tom Otterness angle from the Hilton's marquee. Inside, visitors will find 14 large-scale photos by Hiroshi Sugimoto, whose images include wax-museum mannequins (Madame Tussaud's is practically next door), and old Times Square theaters shot by Andrew Moore.

In the guest rooms in both hotels hang specially commissioned print editions by painters Mary Heilmann, Elizabeth Peyton, and Sara Sosnowy. "We made enough for both hotels," Raicovich says. Each property also claims a who's who of the contemporary art world, with prints, etchings, and photos by the likes of Roy Lichtenstein, Frank Stella, Julian Schnabel, Louise Bourgeois, and Jeff Koons. "It's amazing that developers are committed to doing this kind of thing," marvels Raicovich of the push to give art top billing. "It's not cheap to commission someone like Sol LeWitt."

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