At least hotel artwork has tradition.
Most hotel art traditionally has been a consistent display of bad--if not boring--taste, a collection of things bought simply to fill wall space, artwork where the frame is usually worth more than what's in it.
Finally, however, things seem to be changing . . . and mostly for the better.
The Seattle Sheraton has become a showcase for artists of the Pacific Northwest. The Inter-Continental Hotel in New Orleans features works by 17 local artists. And the Century Plaza hotel in Los Angeles, as well as all the Ritz-Carlton hotels, publish special art books and offer private art tours of each hotel.
The Seattle Sheraton looks like any other high-rise hotel. But now that establishment can claim the largest permanent public installation of contemporary art in the Pacific Northwest.
The hotel's art collection is valued at more than $1 million, and includes works by Mark Tobey, Morris Graves and George Tsutakawa.
The Sheraton also boasts its own curator. "We want this hotel to be different for the guests," says Margery Aronson, an independent art adviser who supervises the Sheraton collection. "As a result, each guest room at the Sheraton features at least two original works of art."
"It's been refreshing to me," Aronson says, "that many new hotels are giving as much thought to their art collections as they are to more traditional hotel considerations."
The Hyatt Regency Grand Cypress in Florida boasts a $1.5-million art collection. The Fairmont in San Francisco has more than 500 original 20th-Century art pieces, each handpicked by Roselyne Swig. Swig is not just the wife of the hotel owner, she is also the founder and president of a San Francisco-based company called Art Source.
"The art at most hotels doesn't respect the clients," Swig says. "We want our art to be both a learning experience as well as an aesthetic one for our guests.
"The art that we buy should reflect a style that is not overbearing, but is original. The strength of our collection is that our artists are considered initiators."
Swig also supervises the hanging of each piece in guest rooms, and insists on one non-negotiable rule: Nothing can be hung over guest beds. "That's the last place people will see it," she says.
Hotels are no longer just buying art, they're commissioning it. The outside of Le Mondrian hotel in Los Angeles has a monumental painting by Israeli artist Yaacov Agam. Inside the hotel are more than 2,000 pieces of original art by Agam and other contemporary artists.
Each of the 197 rooms and suites at the Mandarin Hotel in Vancouver has an original watercolor by Vancouver artist Jamie Evrard. And watercolorist Dong Kingman has just become an artist in residence at the Hyatt Regency Waikiki.
At the new Park Hyatt in Washington, D.C., 13th-Century Buddhist sculptures flank a David Hockney piece. And at the newer Hyatt in Scottsdale, Ariz., original art is everywhere.
"I started working on this project as the hotel was being built," says Bernice Greenberg, who found and bought the art. "We made a specific effort to find art that was contemplative and could be discovered as one roamed through the hotel."
"Many hotels now find themselves on the cutting edge of art patronage," says Lynne Kortenhaus, the fine arts adviser to the Ritz-Carlton hotel company. "We're displaying museum-quality art in a non-museum environment."
In a program just announced, Ritz-Carlton is offering private tours of its $7.5-million art and antique collection to American Express card holders who stay at their hotels in Boston, Atlanta, Naples (Fla.) or Laguna Niguel.
But you don't need an American Express card to tour the extensive collection at the Regent Hotel in Hong Kong or the Mauna Kea Hotel on the Big Island of Hawaii.
The Regent in Hong Kong is home to a magnificent assemblage of Oriental art dating to the 17th Century. "We have carefully acquired the art," says general manager Rudolf Greiner, "not only for its aesthetic beauty but also for the Oriental symbolism represented."
The Regent has published a beautiful coffee-table art book of its collection, and will gladly arrange tours for guests.
At the Mauna Kea, it's not only the types of art but how the pieces are displayed that sets the hotel apart.
Japanese ceremonial horses, an 18th-Century Siamese Garuda, an Arabian chest from Zanzibar, ceramic animals from Ceylon and rare Kimono tapestries are part of the more than 1,000 pieces of art throughout the hotel.
The open-air halls and walkways display 10-by-10-foot antique Hawaiian quilts, each featuring a different symmetrical design. Each has up to 2 million stitches.
Buddhas from Thailand and Burma, silver temple toys from India, and large brass hope chests are everywhere. Temple drums from Thailand stand guard in front of some guest rooms. And in one corner of the hotel, remarkably preserved, is a tall wooden scholars' table.