Tick off luxury hotels and art museums in one go Writer Kate Whitehead

Portrait of Tammy Strobel

Tick off luxury hotels and art museums in one go Writer Kate Whitehead

My Reading Room
My Reading Room

The last 20 years have seen luxury hotels go to ever more extreme measure to impress guests, trumping each other with infinity pools, decadent spas and Michelin-starred restaurants. One sure way of upping the ‘wow’ factor is to have an impressive art collection and today some of the world’s best art now calls a hotel home. Stay at one of these luxury properties and there is no need to visit a museum for your dose of culture, you’ll find it in the hotel lobby, or perhaps even at the end of your bed.

Art hotels are now big business – whether it’s a priceless Qing Dynasty vase or edgy street art, the hotel world seems on a mission to get art out of the museums and into spaces where people can enjoy them over a drink, dinner or as they fall asleep.


London hotels have embraced the art trend in a big way. When 45 Park Lane opened opposite The Dorchester in 2011, its mission was to offer travellers something new in Mayfair: the opportunity to have a true brush with art. It launched with a showcase of art by 10 of Britain’s leading artists. The Penthouse Suite features an original artwork by British artist Sir Peter Blake, best known for his design of the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album. In the hotel’s steak restaurant CUT, all 16 of Damien Hirst’s limited-edition diamond dust Psalm series hang together for the first time.

Work by other leading British artists such as Patrick Hughes, Bruce McLean, Joe Tilson and Brendan Neiland adorn the walls of the guest rooms, hallways and bar. The collection was curated by Roy Ackerman, who was awarded an OBE in 1990 for his contribution to tourism, training and the arts. He says he chose the artists for their “artistic personalities…more unique and strong and indeed more numerous than almost anywhere else in the world”. Ackerman regularly briefs hotel staff on the work displayed so that they can answer guests’ questions.

Interior designer Thierry Despont created the large-scale tapestry that hangs in the entrance especially for the 45 Park Lane. “The artwork represents an imaginary planet, suggesting that guests have entered their own private world,” he says.

In addition to the permanent collection, there is a constantly changing programme of exhibitions as well as the opportunity to meet the artists through studio visits, art lessons and gallery tours. And with the aim of making sure that the art is a living, breathing thing – once a month CUT plays host to all the artists who have exhibited their work at the hotel.

A year after it opened, 45 Park Lane began supporting the Wells Art Contemporary competition, which draws more than 700 entries from around the world. The first prize includes an exhibition in the hotel lobby. Its cosy connections in the art world mean that the hotel is able to call on the likes of Jane McAdam Freud, the daughter of Lucian Freud, to give breakfast talks. In less than five years 45 Park Lane has succeeded in putting itself on the map as one of London’s leading hotels for displaying art. www.dorchestercollection.com

THIS PAGE: The London Edition boasts an outstanding art collection. OPPOSITE PAGE: Damien Hirst's Diamond Dust Psalms series is on display in the restaurant CUT at 45 Park Lane
THIS PAGE: The London Edition boasts an outstanding art collection. OPPOSITE PAGE: Damien Hirst's Diamond Dust Psalms series is on display in the restaurant CUT at 45 Park Lane
My Reading Room
My Reading Room

For proof that an outstanding art collection can pull in the crowds and create an atmosphere, you need look no further than Berners Tavern at The London Edition. Located in Fitzrovia on the edge of London’s Soho neighbourhood, the hotel opened in 2013 and has made excellent use of its carefully curated art collection to set the tone of the property – it’s young, happening and just a little bit edgy. Even on a Sunday evening Berners Tavern is buzzing, every seat is taken and the waiters are hurrying between the tables. It’s a breathtaking room and the high ceiling – triple height and with impressive white stuccowork – ensures that the place doesn’t feel crowded.

Despite the dimensions of the room, the restaurant has a warm, cosy atmosphere and this is thanks to the collection of 211 photographs that cover the wall space. Framed in different sized gilt frames, it’s a wide range of subjects from people and flowers to sheep and landscapes and all with the same dreamy quality to them. What brings the collection by 60 different artists together are the vintage frames, immediately creating a clubby feel with a distinctly British vibe.

Leslie Simitch, executive vice president of Trunk Archives, the New York-based licensing agency, was called in to curate the photography collection – giving the place immediate kudos. The bonus is that many of the photographs are for sale through Trunk Archive. Of course, the restaurant’s Michelin-starred chef Jason Atherton must claim some credit for the fact that Berners Tavern is such a roaring success, but the art collection goes a long way to create the vibe.

The hotel partnered with Sedition, which offers a revolutionary new way to collect art by the world’s leading artists in digital format. This partnership has brought leading British artists such as Tracey Emin’s with her neon artwork I Can’t Believe How Much I Loved You as well as international artists such as American Jenny Holzer and Dutch artist Jacco Olivier.

The best of the art is in the public spaces, which means you needn’t stay at the hotel to enjoy the collection. But that said, the evocative photography by Dutch artist Hendrik Kerstens in the guest rooms is a delight and is in fitting with the simple wood wall panels and oak flooring. www.editionhotels.com


It’s not just the big hotel groups that have embraced the art trend – even small boutique properties have seen the value of using art to define their property. Take the St. James's Hotel and Club, a few minutes walk from London’s prestigious Mayfair district. When the new owner took over the property he employed the services of an art specialist to put together a collection that would put his hotel on the map.

The Rosenstein Collection – a collection of more than 400 paintings, pictures and sculptures – was selected to complement the design and vibe of the hotel. Many of the works are portraits and have been sourced from Scandinavia, France, Germany, Austria, Netherlands and the UK. Distinguished-looking figures from a wide variety of cultural, religious and social backgrounds gives a strong sense of history and tradition. And that’s something the property has in buckets. The building itself dates back to 1889 and was for many years a gentleman’s club for the English aristocracy. By the 1960s the place was divided into private flats and it wasn’t until 2008 when the savvy new owner Mian Mohammas Mansha took over and turned it into a hotel that the property got back some of its former glory thanks to some well-chosen paintings and sculptures. www.stjameshotelandclub.com

My Reading Room
My Reading Room

CLOCKWISE FROM BELOW: Art is everywhere at St. James's Hotel and Club, including the William's Bar and Bistro; the Rosenstein Collection gives the St. James's Hotel and Club its strong sense of history and tradition; the Michelin-starred restaurant Seven Park Place at St. James's Hotel and Club

My Reading Room

Testament to the fact that a carefully curated art collection does more than add an interesting element to a hotel, it can completely define it, is QT Sydney which launched in 2012. It quickly established a reputation for its art-laden interiors and for attracting those in the creative industries and art aficionados. It was clear from the start that it was serious about art when it appointed respected art specialist Amanda Love as the hotel’s curator.

“When you stay in a hotel you want to have access to what you think is the real local community, you don’t want to just mix with other tourists, so having the art collection allows the hotel to be involved with a sticky kind of local community, creative face of Sydney,” says Love.

Tasked with acquiring and commissioning the hotel’s huge collection of art, Love focused on local and regional talent. Standout pieces include the signature digital installation by New Zealand artist Daniel Crooks that overlooks the reception and a multi-channel installation by indigenous artist Daniel Boyd in the Gilt Lounge. What’s more, each lift has a specially commissioned work by Boyd.

“You can experience his work in the hotel and then if you walk down the road to the Museum of Contemporary Art you can see a huge mural by him in the foyer,” says Love.

Bringing that connection between hotel and art museum even closer, in 2014 QT Sydney partnered with the Australian Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA). This means hotel guests have access to one-off events including private tours and viewings or upcoming exhibitions.

The QT Sydney’s art is contemporary, quirky and fun – and that’s what has come to define the property. The hotel bought an entire edition of video work by Australian artist Grant Steven’s that is based on the idea of online dating. It’s irreverent, flirty and very funny. www.qthotelsandresorts.com

My Reading Room
My Reading Room

CLOCKWISE FROM LEFT: QT Sydney showcases works by local artists; QT Sydney is known for its art-laden interiors; cloisonné camels at Wynn Macau

My Reading Room
My Reading Room

Casinos are known for doing things big, so when the Wynn Macau opened in 2006 – the first Las Vegas-style resort in Asia – it brought in art on a monster scale – big, bold and in some cases priceless.

The first thing you notice as you enter the main lobby is the art – old and new, it’s everywhere. To the right is a collection of four porcelain Baluster vases dating back to the Qing period. Standing four-foot tall, they are exceptionally large. There’s only one other set of these vases in the world – and it’s in the British Royal Families collection.

Casino magnate Steve Wynn’s decision to buy the vases and install them centre place of his first Asian venture is part of his ongoing commitment to return artistic treasures to China. Many Chinese treasures and valuable pieces of art were looted or sold by unscrupulous dealers to European buyers in the early 18th century. Wynn also bought a 14th-century Ming vase and donated it to the Macao Museum in 2007 – it’s on display there now.

Behind the vases hangs a tapestry known as ‘The Emperor on a Journey’ and is part of a series of tapestries on display at the Getty Museum in Los Angeles – so the division between hotel and museum blurs, you can see similar art in both although you can’t snuggle up in 700-thread count sheets in a museum.

Still in the main lobby, your gaze drifts out the window to the swimming pool and gardens where two life-size camels stand majestically. The cloisonné camels are a reminder of the camels that used to walk the Silk Road, plying trade between East and West.

There is specially commissioned art throughout the property. One of the standout pieces is the iconic flying Crystal Dragon in the Chinese restaurant, Wing Lei. Made of 90,000 crystals and 2,400 individually blown glass lights, it dominates the far wall and is confirmed talking point. Also worthy of note are the chandeliers throughout the hotel. The red Murano glass chandelier is a knockout. The only one of its kind in the world, it was made by hand on the famous glass-blowing island of Murano in Italy by Cenedesse Masters and is said to symbolise good luck – certainly something to keep the gamblers happy. www.wynnmacau.com