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The Real Art of Hotels

A lot of hotels are being designed like works of art on the outside, but there are a number of hotels that also focus on the works of art inside.

If you’re looking for an art-focused place to stay while you travel in the United States, from Santa Barbara, California to Richmond, Virginia, here are some hotels that will catch your eye.

In Santa Barbara, California, the Spanish Garden Inn is a hotel that used to be the Santa Barbara School of the Arts. But now, it’s a 24-room boutique hotel with every room having its own one-of-a-kind hand painted work of art. Owners Rich Untermann and Gail Elnicky are no strangers to art. Elnicky has been a docent with the Santa Barbara Museum of Art for 15 years. And Untermann is the one who paints the artwork in the hotel. He painted the art in the hotel rooms and the lobby using a plain air technique, meaning the art is sketched in place and not by photograph. In order to get the right look, Untermann resketches and paints at his studio using watercolors and oils and then takes the art back to its original location of creation for completion. He focuses on areas of interest specifically in Santa Barbara including its historic buildings, paseos, museums and theaters. By painting local establishments, Untermann hopes that the art will be an experience inside the hotel and outside of it as the guests can then experience these locations –and Santa Barbara– in-person.


In Denver, Colorado, there’s a hotel with ART in its name. The ART hotel has a museum-quality, curated collection of original works of art from 20th and 21st century artists around the world. Art was acquired from artists in Dusseldorf, London, Vietnam New York, Los Angeles and Denver. The hotel’s art collection is broken up into different areas–the Welcome Gallery, FIRE the restaurant, the meeting space, Portico Gallery and guest room floors.

When you enter the Welcome Gallery, you’ll be welcomed by a bronze statue of a girl with paper flowers, named “Singer.” This famous piece is by Kiki Smith, who is a German-born artist living in New York. In 2016, Smith won the International Sculpture Center’s Lifetime Achievement award in Contemporary Sculpture Art.

But it’s not just Smith’s girl who will get your attention here. In fact, the ART is known for the art that was specifically comissioned for it, Light Knots by Larry Bell in the FIRE restaurant and Leo Villareal’s light installation in the porte cochere. Light Knots was created from a Mylar film layer and was coated with metals and quartz. The knots move and interact with light to create a three-dimensional feel. As for Villareal’s untitled work, it’s the ceiling’s light display of abstract patterns– computer programmed– with 22,000 white LED nodes. It’s all about the lighting here.


In Louisville, Kentucky, a first of its kind art musuem hotel 21c Lousiville opened in 2006 by art collectors Laura Lee Brown and Steve Wilson. Part hotel and part museum, the 21c was born in Louisville’s downtown arts and theater district and has over 9,000 feet (five warehouses) of exhibition space for curated exhibitions and site-specific installations. Since its creation, 21c grew to eight more hotels, and more are currently in the works after 21c joined AccorHotels in 2018.

At 21c Louisville, galleries are open daily and its exhibitions rotate. When you first walk in, you’ll notice a gigantic David (inspired by the real one by Michelangelo) by conceptual artist Serkan Özkaya. His  double-size, golden replica of David was created for the 9th International Istanbul Biennial in 2005. Then in 2011, 21c commissioned the 30-foot-tall sculpture to make its journey from Istanbul to Louisville.

And once you’re inside of 21c Louisville, what’s really different is that you can stay in a work of art with the installation “Asleep in the Cyclone.” Created by New York-based artists Jonah Freeman and Justin Lowe,  this immersive art experience doubles as a guest room. The room has a domed-ceiling sculpture with colorful, triangular designs. The artists also designed the blankets and linens in addition to the room’s curated components including the artists’ favorite records.


And its 21c that inspired Quirk Hotel Co-owner Ted Ukrop, who opened the Quirk Hotel in 2015. The hotel was once a 1916 department store, and it connects to the Quirk Gallery, which is also co-owned and directed by Katie Ukrop, and has been a part of the Richmond, Virginia community since 2005.

Before you get to the connecting gallery, the hotel features a must-see before you get to the gallery. There’s an artwork known as “Cat Baby,” which is a cat holding on to an octopus–made of papier-mache, paint and gold leaf by artist Sarah Hand.


In the gallery itself, you’ll find exhibits that rotate every six to eight weeks that feature both local and international artists. In addition to its rotating exhibits, there’s a curated shop where you can purchase artwork to take home with you. Unlike at many hotels that show off art, you can walk away with jewelry, ceramics and prints at the Quirk. For example, Hand’s “Fancy Poodle” sells for $90.


And if you’re looking for an all-new art experience this summer, you’ll find it at Porto Vista Hotel in San Diego, where the hotel is hosting its first Curator-in-Residence, Brunno Silva. Silva is a Berlin-based curator, art consultant and writer who will llive and work on site at the hotel from May 6, 2019 to July 18, 2019. During this time, he will conduct a series of 10 free lectures and 30 studio visits with local artists. Andy Warhol and Hito Steyerl are just two artists with video art that will be examined through Silva’s in depth lecture series, “The Video Contingency.” This is all part of a larger plan for an art program that would showcase local and international artists throughout the hotel.


So the next time you’re in the mood for some art, just keep in mind that you might not even have to leave your hotel.