Best Hotel Art Collections
Over the past decade, the fine line separating art and design has become increasingly blurry, especially in hotels. It’s no longer enough for a hotelier to hire a rock star architect—he now has to consult a famous art expert or big-name gallery owner as well. The goal is to acquire works that would make a museum curator green with envy. And the result is standout collections that you can appreciate without even checking in—the art usually hangs in the lobby, bar, or restaurant.
“Hotels really can’t get away with putting mallard prints on the wall anymore,” says Paul Morris, who oversees six international art fairs including the Armory Show in New York City , VOLTA in Basel, Switzerland , and Art Toronto for the Merchandise Mart. “People are more art savvy, and artists have turned into celebrities. It creates higher expectation levels all around.”
When Morris isn’t traveling the world to art fairs, he bounces between his office in New York City and the Merchandise Mart’s headquarters in Chicago , where he likes to stay at The James . It’s no surprise why: the hotel has art books in every room and curated exhibits in the lobby.
Morris also loves the Gramercy Park Hotel for its impressive art collection that’s partly curated by legendary artist and award-winning film director Julian Schnabel. Schnabel has decorated the public spaces not just with art, but with statement furniture as well.
Across the pond in Athens , the Semiramis also has a standout collection, thanks to owner Dakis Joannou’s impressive trove of contemporary works. Wander in and you’ll see pieces by art world bad boy Jeff Koons and Japanese sensation Takashi Murakami, all displayed inside a hotel designed by Karim Rashid (known for his ultra-modern take on everything from furniture to trash cans).
Most of the hotels on our list feature art from the hotel owner’s private collection. But in some cases—like The James in Chicago and Chambers in Minneapolis —pieces are on loan from other collectors or area galleries, so the exhibits change often. This rotating palette not only attracts the local crowds, but also gives out-of-towners an excuse to return again and again.
Whether you visit for the starchitecture or the art, staying at one of these properties will make you feel like you’ve spent the night in a museum. The owners wouldn’t have it any other way.
Gramercy Park Hotel, New York City
The Setting: Ian Schrager’s reentry into the hospitality business after selling his hotel empire in 2005 had to be over-the-top and fabulous. Schrager enlisted New York–based painter and filmmaker Julian Schnabel to design the public spaces of the 185-room Gramercy Park Hotel. Not only did Schnabel bring in original works by some of the biggest names in contemporary art, he also decorated the hotel with bronze tables, chairs, and a custom rug—all of his own design.
Collection Highlights: Andy Warhol’s Diamond Dust Shoes painting (at the front desk); a Warhol painting collaboration with Basquiat called GE Arm and Hammer (in the Rose Bar); and an energetic blue Keith Haring piece (also in the Rose Bar).
Dolder Grand, Zurich, Switzerland
The Setting: The Dolder Grand reopened in 2008 after four years of drastic renovations. The old structure, which dates to 1899, is now framed by two very modern wings designed by Foster + Partners (as in Sir Norman Foster of the famous Gherkin building in London). And just as the architecture integrates old and new, so does the art from owner Urs Ernst Schwarzenbach.
Collection Highlights: Sol LeWitt’s Horizontal Brushstrokes (which looks like colorful TV static) hangs in the new spa. Diners in the restaurant can feast their eyes on Salvador Dalí’s Femmes Metamorphoses, whose Surrealist wackiness (bodies with lobster heads) is tempered by classic still life (bread and milk on a table, lemons, and a water pitcher on a red chair) oil paintings by Tamara de Lempicka (1898–1980).
21c Museum Hotel, Louisville, KY
The Setting: The 21c hotel may be named for the 21st century, but its buildings—former tobacco and bourbon warehouses—are pure 19th century. The 91-room hotel has 9,000 square feet of gallery space and houses a multimillion-dollar collection of contemporary art owned by philanthropist Steve Wilson and his wife, Laura Lee Brown (whose family owns Brown-Forman, a liquor conglomerate that produces Jack Daniels and Southern Comfort).
Collection Highlights: Two works by Brazilian artist Vik Muniz, known for creating pieces out of “odd” materials like chocolate syrup or garbage and then photographing them. Muniz was recently honored by the Museum of Modern Art, chosen for an “artists’ choice” installation where he selected works from its collection to create an exhibition.
The Joule, Dallas
The Setting: The 129-room Joule, housed in a former bank building dating to 1927, opened in 2008 after extensive renovations at the hands of architect Adam Tihany (known primarily for restaurant designs like Per Se and Daniel in New York). The collection was curated by local art consultant John Runyon, with hotel owner Tim Headington, an oilman-turned-developer.
Collection Highlights: Andy Warhol’s Electric Chairs silk-screen print hangs over the espresso bar (a reference to the “jolt” of caffeine provided there), and photographer David Levinthal’s large-scale Barbie Polaroids adorn the 10th-floor hall that leads to the hotel’s famous cantilevered pool. Barbie is, appropriately, sporting swimsuits.
Chambers Hotel, Minneapolis
The Setting: Designed by David Rockwell (who also re-envisioned the sets of the Academy Awards this year), Chambers Minneapolis is housed in two landmark Revival-style buildings in the city’s Theatre District. But don’t let the historic façade fool you: inside are more than 200 pieces of contemporary art from the private collection of real-estate developer Ralph Burnet, who owns the hotel.
Collection Highlights: Collection Highlights: Two pieces by art world sensation Damien Hirst are on view here—including the dead-animals-in-formaldehyde types that made him famous. A set of 13 silk-screen prints depicting pharmaceutical labels, entitled Last Supper, hangs in the restaurant. And Judas Iscariot (The Twelve Disciples), a bull's head suspended in a vitrine, looms behind the front desk (above).
The Four Seasons Hotel, Florence, Italy
The Setting: It took more than seven years to build, but in 2008 the Four Seasons finally opened in Florence. Delays were caused by discoveries made during the renovation of the 15th-century Palazzo della Gherardesca and 16th-century convent—two separate buildings connected by the largest public garden in the city. Every time a fresco was uncovered, authorities at the national Belle Arti committee had to be consulted before construction could continue.
Collection Highlights: The lobby features 12 bas-reliefs of mythological stories painted by Bertoldo di Giovanni, a teacher of Michelangelo, and dating to 1555. But there’s much more: the hotel’s exclusive suites have vaulted ceilings with paintings featuring scenes from everyday life of the Renaissance—it’s like sleeping in a museum.
The James, Chicago
The Setting: A 1920s building that was once home to a Lenox Suites Hotel got a sleek makeover by Deborah Berke architects (who also designed the 21c hotel) and an art collection that was partially curated by Gene Pressman, former co-CEO and creative director of Barneys New York.
Collection Highlights: When it opened in 2006, the 191-room hotel got a lot of attention for the Room 28 sculpture by Chicago-based local artist Joel Ross, who stripped a motel room and removed its entire contents in 50 vintage suitcases, only to display it later. The famous sculpture still occupies a prominent position in the lobby. Rooms feature abstract nude photographs by Wolfgang Ludes, one of Germany’s leading still-life photographers, and Michael Kenna’s eerily beautiful black-and-white photos of Japan.
Rodwell House, St. James, South Africa
The Setting: Just 30 minutes outside Cape Town in the charming town of St. James, the opulent 1930s house-hotel (built by gold-mining billionaire JB Taylor) sits atop a hill with a gorgeous view of the ocean. The nine-room hotel features art from the owner, financier Robin von Holdt, who’s often on hand to give personal tours.
Collection Highlights: Jacob Hendrik Pierneef and George Pemba might not be household names in the U.S., but in South Africa they’re art world rock stars. The late Pemba, who was black, was famous for his paintings of the harsh realities of life under apartheid; Pierneef was known for landscapes. Their works, along with other 20th-century paintings and sculptures from emerging artists, fill the hotel.
The Setting: Dakis Joannou, Greek billionaire industrialist, founder of the DESTE Foundation Centre for Contemporary Art in Athens, and owner of the over-the-top Semiramis Hotel, has one of the most impressive private collections of contemporary art in the world. (He also has a 114-foot yacht, named Guilty, with an exterior designed and painted by Jeff Koons.) Designed by Karim Rashid, the 51-room property is an explosion of pop-art color (think glowing pink) accented by rotating pieces from Joannou’s collection.
Collection Highlights: Jeff in the Position of Adam, by bad-boy artist Jeff Koons, features himself and his then-porn-star wife in a salacious pose. There are also two photographs by Spencer Tunick, known for shooting group nudes in public places.