Maybe I am not typical but when I walk into a hotel, the first thing my eye is drawn to is the artwork, be it on the walls, on the floor or even hanging from the ceiling…
It’s not always good. Much of the art I encounter in hotels is at best, average. A print or maybe a photograph with a vague local collection is generally the norm. But perhaps not as bad as the “ugly art” encountered recently by the band, Franz Ferdinand, during a recent stay in an up-market hotel in Casablanca, Morocco.
The band, which emerged out of the art scene in Glasgow in the early 2000s, took to social media to vent their ire after a painting fell from a wall in the lobby, crushing a bone in drummer Paul Thomson’s finger.
A post on Franz Ferdinand’s official Twitter feed in early July declared: “We’re sad to say that Paul’s finger was crushed by an ugly piece of art which fell from the wall of a hotel lobby in Casablanca. The bone has splintered into small pieces and he is unable to hold a drumstick without experiencing intense pain.”
Later, lead singer Alex Kapranos joked on his own Twitter feed that, “the painting was truly awful”. As someone who has seen one ugly painting too many in hotels, I felt the band’s pain.
Art in hotels is, of course, nothing new. Art can engage like no other medium; which is something illusive British street artist, Banksy, knows all too well. In early 2017, Banksy opened up the Walled Off Hotel in Bethlehem on the West Bank, Palestine.
Billed as having “the worst view of any hotel in the world”, the publicity states its ten rooms get just 25 minutes of direct sunlight a day. A mix of hotel, museum, protest and gallery in one brilliant package, the Walled Off Hotel is packed with the artworks and political punch of its owner.
As Banksy hints at in his West Bank creation, hotels occupy a unique space in society. They have the ability to bring people together in one place; to eat, drink, talk and sleep.
There is something in the air when it comes to artwork in hotels. Recently, on travels around Scotland, I have noticed that smaller independently-owned hotels are engaging more with artists to create a unique setting for guests.
The hotel on every art lover’s lips here in Scotland is The Fife Arms in Braemar, which reopened under new ownership at the end of last year. In a previous life it was a typical old Highland staging post, with solid pub food and a lively bar, frequented by locals and visitors alike.
Today, it has been utterly transformed. A slow-burn creation on the part of its Swiss owners, art dealers Iwan and Manuela Wirth, in the nine months it has been opened, upmarket publications all around the world have been flocking to sample its artastic delights.
The Wirths are well-known on the international contemporary art stage as co-presidents of Hauser & Wirth, which has galleries in London, New York, LA, Hong Kong, Zurich — and Bruton, Somerset.
In Somerset, the Wirths run a restaurant, Roth Bar & Grill, a pub, The Bull Inn, and a holiday home to let, Durslade Farmhouse. The Wirths are no blow-ins and have been coming to Braemar and the surrounding area for almost a decade. They have become firm supporters of the community in and around Braemar, and have even funding a local church to become an arts centre.
Their ambition for the Fife Arms was to create a place that would be a draw for locals and visitors from further afield. It’s very much a community resource with reduced rates for locals.
Dotted around the hotel, which is part hunting lodge, part art gallery, you’ll find a Picasso, a Breughel and a Lucien Freud but don’t be fooled into thinking this is a hotel which is all about paintings on the wall (albeit by dead masters of the art), this is an across-the-board creative endeavour, which has seen cutting-edge interior designers, gardeners, artisans, taxidermists and artists come together to create a Highland hunting lodge like no other.
There are not many Highland hunting lodges which have a Louise Bourgeois spider in the courtyard or a painting by Queen Victoria. By the same token, few have a special Steinway piano “creatively reimagined” by contemporary artist, Mark Bradford, or a multi-coloured glass Red Deer Chandelier by Los Angeles-based Richard Jackson .
Scottish poet and artist, Alec Finlay, was commissioned by the Wirths to create “gathering,” a poetic guide to the Cairngorms. Finlay, whose work always starts from a “place-aware” standpoint, took five years to research and create his works in the hotel. He is enthusiastic about the transformation that has been brought about by the hotel.
“Art in a hotel need not be expensive,” he says. “It can give you a take on a locale which is very specific. If you think of certain American hotels you go to… they have a certain feel and this is very much what you get with a hotel like the Fife Arms.”
All around Scotland, I can think of various small, independent hotels which work with local artists. Either they commission them to make permanent work for the hotel or they sell their work, usually for a much-reduced commission.
I remember visiting Knock Castle Hotel in Crieff, Perthshire, with a group of friends and being pleasantly surprised at the high quality paintings for sale in the hotel’s public areas. According to hotel owner, Jason Henderson, he put a call-out locally asking artists to submit paintings for inclusion in the mini-gallery when the hotel introduced the new concept.
“I’m delighted to finally have the art up on the walls,” he says. “We have work on show by; Jane Cornwell, Katherine Cowtan, Greg Drumm, Kosana Kirbyson, Susan Mancini, Ellen Noble, Victoria Charlotte Rose and Sir John Damari.
“It’s been a long-standing ambition to add a gallery to the hotel and each piece looks wonderful. It’s important to showcase local Scottish artists and we’re really proud to be doing this at Knock Castle. It’s proving very popular with the guests.”
Hoteliers can provide an important platform for artists, which doesn’t just make their public and private areas attractive. The CitizenM chain has had a long-standing policy of supporting and collaborating with locally-based artists and designers through commissioning artworks and murals for the hotel as well as creating site-specific installations at key cultural moments.
CitizenM Glasgow has partnerships with cutting-edge contemporary artists in the shape of biennial art festival, Glasgow International, and the Glasgow School of Art’s world-famous MFA programme, which attracts students from all over the world..
According to Glasgow-based interior designer, Carol Yates, who has 25 years working with small to medium commercial ventures in the restaurant and hotel sector, people are far more likely to engage with their surroundings if artwork is selected with a keen eye.
“There are two strands to art in hotels. The first strand is when the art fits in. It’s not part of the decor; it’s a collection. The second is when art is considered in a more decorative way. You’re more likely to have a more considered approach with small independently-owned hotels.
“You go into a big hotel in St Andrews and all they have on the wall is golf art. Fife is an incredibly rich area for art and artists and it wouldn’t take much to collaborate with artists and tap into this seam.
“Despite the proliferation of highland coos on walls everywhere, there’s no such thing as Scottish art. Introducing art into hotels should be more considered as it brings a lot of benefits, It would be great if all the big chains embraced it.”
by Jan Patience