Travel Tips

Sleeping With Warhol: Stay in an Art Hotel When Travelling in America

Locations in this article:  Chicago, IL Louisville, KY Minneapolis, MN New York City, NY San Francisco, CA Tacoma, WA

Art HotelsWhat do you look for in a hotel? Price? Comfort? Location? Great works of art?

Until recently, the idea of hotel art was nondescript prints or cheap reproductions bolted to guest room walls.

Not anymore.

One by one, hotels are slowly evolving into showplaces for showpieces and turning into mini-art galleries.

Many display works of well-known international artists, while others showcase emerging local artists. And in many cases, the exhibits not only rotate, but everything is for sale. Some hotels even have their own curators.

Welcome to the brave new world of the “art break” hotel.


Exterior penguins 21cLet’s start with a hotel that actually doubles as a museum. The hotel 21c, located in Louisville, Kentucky, has such a vast collection of art that it even has a curator on staff. Opened in 2006 by husband-and-wife art collectors Steve Wilson and Laura Lee Brown, the property features a 9,000 square-foot-museum along with an international collection of contemporary works in its public and private spaces.

What sets this hotel apart is that it was originally designed as a museum; the hotel came second as a way to fund the museum’s operations. And while you may not think of Louisville as an artsy destination, Wilson and Brown’s goal was to remind people that you don’t have to travel to major metropolitan areas to see great art.

At 21c, you’ll find original prints in each guestroom, as well as the elevators, lobby, bathrooms, hallways, and the restaurant. Some of the larger permanent pieces scattered around the lobby, garden and entryway are one-of-a-kind works worth millions.

Interior penguins 21c Highlights include the hotel’s signature red penguin sculptures, a Baroque chandelier hanging from a gallows pole outside the building that actually makes “breathing noises, and an interactive “text rain” projector in the elevator lobby that “rains” words onto guests.

The hotel also features artist lectures, a monthly film series, and a cable channel in each guest room that showcases nothing but video art. The gallery also offers rotating solo and group exhibits featuring regional, local, and international artists.

Though none of the artwork is for sale, Wilson and Brown can put interested collectors directly in touch with the artists. 502-217-6300,


Just steps from the gates of Chinatown, the Hotel des Arts in San Francisco lives in a turn-of-the century building that has been everything from a boarding house to a bakery. These days, it’s a hotel in which each room is an individual gallery, and guests can buy works made by an impressive array of national and international artists.

previous exhibition at hotel des artsThe brainchild of art lover and businessman Richard Singer, the Hotel des Arts has 52 rooms, each of which is designed floor-to-ceiling by a different artist. Far from being “themed” rooms, each space is designed with unique styles ranging from edgy graffiti to organic painted designs. For example, one room decorated with militant propaganda art might give off a slightly disturbing Big Brother vibe, while artist Chandra Michaels’ “Sugarluxe” room dazzles with quirky and colorful sweetness.

In addition to in-your-face artwork in the rooms, the hotel’s hallways, corridors and lobby also comprise a living gallery with 150 rotating pieces—each of which is available for purchase. The gallery highlights a diverse selection of artists with a heavy emphasis on local Bay Area residents who create everything from digital art to painted wood installations. Prices range from $150 to $6,000, with all the money going straight to the artists. 415-956-3232,

Next up…Art at the airport.