Sunday, January 13, 2008

For hotels, pampering is a fine art

No time for the local museum on an overnight trip? Try lingering at your hotel.

A new breed of hotels is dressing up walls, lobbies and guest rooms with original artworks from a mix of famous, midcareer and promising artists. Instead of hanging bland or factory-produced art that blends in with the background, they're choosing memorable — and in many cases, very expensive — works. A growing number of hoteliers think that art can help them create an experience that will draw more travelers.

Louisville, for instance, has the 91-room 21c Museum Hotel, opened two years ago by developer Steve Wilson and his wife, Laura Lee Brown,to showcase some of their $10 million contemporary art collection. It includes Text Rain, an interactive video installation by conceptual artists Camille Utterback, an American, and Romy Achituv, an Israeli.
Louisville Mayor Jerry Abramson says the 21c is sparking interest around the world, and it is boosting Louisville's profile as its downtown area undergoes a massive makeover with lofts, condominiums and new towers.

"It creates a buzz," Abramson says. Visitors "walk away with a feeling that Louisville's becoming much more of an edgy community than what they'd originally perceived."

At 21c, Wilson says, he has sought to balance serious, provocative works with whimsical works. The Wilsons don't want theirs to become one of those boutique hotels that "can get so cool, they're almost inhospitable," he says.

Sondland, the Seattle hotel developer, tends to feature works of local artists in his Provenance chain, which includes Hotel Preston in Nashville and Hotel Max in Seattle. He's building the Murano, home of the glass ships, in a converted Sheraton built in the 1980s.

"We're trying to give travelers the ability to roam the building and nurture their souls," says Sondland, who's been investing in hotels for more than two decades —and collecting art longer. But good art also is good business.

Read the entire story in the USA Today.

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