Do you care if your hotel has good art?
It’s Queen Elizabeth, but not as we know her. Oblivious to the world, she sits blissed-out and eyes closed beneath her crown in a giant photograph, a piece of art from Britain’s cutting-edge Saatchi Collection.
But she’s not on show in a museum, or an art gallery.
This tranche of Britain’s finest contemporary collection is laid out in London’s Churchill Hotel, and there are no lines to get in or entrance fees.
The Churchill is one of a growing number of properties putting themselves up as substitutes for the world’s leading art galleries.
Blame it on Las Vegas, where Impressionist paintings were brought in by the Bellagio in 1998 to set it apart as the poshest place on the Strip, a repository of culture as well as gambling and showgirls.
The hotel is currently showing Monets from the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, the kind of show that would attract long lines in the treasure houses of the world’s capital cities.
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London and Las Vegas (where the Venetian opened with its own branch of the Guggenheim) are not alone.
New York’s Gramercy sports Warhols and Picassos, La Colombe d’Or on the French Riviera is bedecked with Picassos and works by Matisse and Calder, while the Rome Cavalieri has a Tiepolo, one of the greatest of all Old Masters.
Then there’s the Ritz-Carlton Millenia in Singapore, attempting to trump everyone by investing in 4,200 contemporary artworks, and the Saxon in Johannesburg, claiming the world’s largest collection of African art.
In Britain, the Broomhill Art Hotel in Devon abuts a four-hectare sculpture park, while in Copenhagen the trendy Hotel Fox wows guests with Manga cartoons.
And Hong Kong-based Peninsula Hotels are now running art tours for guests as just another facet of upper-crust hospitality.
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But why are hotels so obsessed with art? Do travelers really choose hotels for what hangs in frames on the walls?
“I’m much more motivated by the location and the quality of the rooms,” says frequent traveler, Nick Winter.
Though he admits: “When I do find myself staying somewhere with a thought-provoking painting or installation, it stops me in my tracks. I wouldn’t choose a hotel for the art, but I would certainly remember my stay if the art was amazing.”
From the customer’s viewpoint the attraction is getting a cultural lift on a business trip which may not allow time for a gallery or museum outing.
The art is not only on the premises but is generally free to view; you’re not likely to have to stand in line and there are armchairs to flop in.
But what’s in it for hotels -- besides the potential investment value -- when they could be putting their money into bigger rooms, better food or new amenities like a pool or a spa with a more immediate chance of revenue?
“Some guests come only for the art and my services,” says Domoina de Brantes, art concierge at Raffles' Le Royal Monceau in Paris.
“We have a huge collection of more than 300 pieces, revolving exhibitions of photography, plus I recommend a specific cultural event to guests every day.
”They want to be kept informed of the latest exhibitions and art events, so I get enquiries from them every day and also reach out to them with an art newsletter.”
The hotel appointed an art concierge because designer Philippe Starck, who oversaw its transformation from grande dame into cutting-edge hotel, dictated it, given the hotel’s mission statement to be dedicated to art and culture.
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There’s also the talking-point factor, cited by the Churchill Hotel as a good reason for collaborating with the Saatchi Collection, which is bolder with its purchases than grand institutions like London’s Tate Modern.
“Not everyone will like the pieces we have on show, although some will love them, but it certainly gets people talking about the hotel as well as the art,” says spokesperson Henny Frazer.
She points out that the hotel has partnered with London’s cutting-edge Frieze Art Fair since 2008, "So we’re delighted to continue our association with world-renowned contemporary art.”
From the gallery side, Bianca Gidwani, spokesperson for the Saatchi Collection, says: “The gallery’s role is to bring art to as wide an audience as possible. Where better than a prestigious hotel with a constant stream of visitors from all over the world?
“It's wonderful to see contemporary art installed in places which freely allow people to reflect on it as they go about their everyday lives."
Three hotels worth visiting for the art
21c Museum Hotel, Louisville, Kentucky, United States
Kentucky, better known for its thoroughbreds and mint juleps, seems an unlikely location for this hotel which has been hailed as one of the best in the world, and its owners are even more unlikely.
Laura Lee Brown and Steve Wilson are farmers who raise bison, hogs and chickens, but also have a passion for “the art of today.”
The concept combines hostelry and gallery and has been so popular that a second Museum Hotel will open soon in Cincinnati and two more are on the cards for next year.
Don’t expect the world’s biggest names, though the exhibitors are all up and comers who have shown internationally, but do expect to have your socks knocked off by eye-popping paintings, sculptures, digital art and installations.
700 W. Main St., Louisville, Ky., United States; +1 502 217 6300; www.21cMuseumHotels.com; from US$249
Hyatt Regency Churchill Hotel, London, England
This hotel, with a great London location where Mayfair meets Marylebone at Marble Arch, takes its commitment to art seriously.
It has a long-standing collaboration with Charles Saatchi, who owns Britain’s most cutting-edge international contemporary collection.
The current show is themed around sport to coincide with the London Olympics, but watch out for the Giants -- two lumberjack figures who loom over the sofa at the entrance to the restaurant.
They are leftovers from the last Saatchi show, and created such a talking point the hotel couldn’t bear to give them back.
“Making Waves” runs till October 2012; 30 Portman Square, London W1; +44 20 7486 5800; london.churchill.hyatt.com; from US$574
The Bellagio, Las Vegas, United States
It may not be free to view, but the art on show in this upscale Strip hotel is out-of-this-world class.
Since opening in 1998 to house the personal collection of “Mr. Las Vegas” Steve Wynn, the original owner of the hotel, the Bellagio has exhibited everything from priceless Van Goghs and Warhols to Fabergé eggs from the Kremlin.
A large gallery -- new owners MGM relocated it to a larger space on the pool promenade -- means no lines, and there’s no charge for the photography on show next to the paid exhibits. Or for the light show put on by the dazzling colored fountains as you exit.
“Claude Monet: Impressions of Light” runs till January 6, 2013; 3600 Las Vegas Blvd. S., Las Vegas, United States; +1 702 693 7111; www.bellagio.com; from US$149