The days of gilt-framed faux-impressionism punctuating hotel walls are over. Or it certainly seems that way, as just about every trendy boutique hotel is making concerted efforts to bring the work of living artists into the fold, as lobbies and bars are transformed into legitimate galleries.
This is mostly good news, since it means artists are getting work, and exposure to a whole segment of culturally aware spenders and tastemakers, while savvy travelers are getting better things to look at. But recent unfortunate events at the Ritz-Carlton Residences at L.A. Live, in which the commissioned work of two popular street artists was callously destroyed, raise the question: Just what are these lifestyle purveyors hoping to accomplish by putting all this legitimate art on the walls? And what, if anything, is the real effect of this trend on the art world?
It's hard to see a downside for the artists or the galleries that sell the work to the hotel curators and designers — a sale is a sale. As the profile and quality of the hotel-art genre improve, no harm is done to their résumés, either. Some of the best efforts are even attracting positive critical attention. The more glittery segments of the mainstream gallery scene are the same demographic that the hippest boutique hotels are hoping to attract.
Furthermore, in hotels, as in the gallery world, there's an aesthetic divide between street art, which is or draws inspiration from the sometimes illegal practice of painting outdoor murals, and fine art fare, which is sometimes edgy but definitely better behaved. As befits a culture capital, in L.A.'s hotels, there's plenty of everything to go around.
Here's a guide to some of the best art-friendly hotels in the city.
Andaz West Hollywood
One of the best-conceived and most dynamic programs is “Art Seen” at West Hollywood's Andaz Hotel. Curated by charming, respected art and design consultant Merry Norris, the Andaz is festooned with long-term installations, commissions and even purchases, which are integrated throughout the public spaces to great effect. With a decisive focus on the work of contemporary, midcareer local artists, the art situation at the former Riot House is the most casually professional and also most whimsical of the trend. On display right now are sculptures by Jaime Scholnick, paintings by Dion Johnson, sculptures by Elizabeth Higgins O'Connor and a stunning painting by Kristin Everberg listed as being from the Andaz's permanent collection. It's so grand and old-school for a hotel to have a permanent collection; good on them. 8401 Sunset Blvd., W. Hlywd.
BLVD Hotel & Spa
The BLVD Hotel & Spa in Universal City owns much of the art it shows, too — but for a very different reason. It has a program called BLVD Arts, which in September, in conjunction with 1881 Project, held a high-profile mural competition and graffiti wall smackdown. After a raucous live event, a Web-based voting process ensued, and Gino Gaspara's mural — a raw and witty mash-up of Hollywood and pop art icons with the real people who live there — won and will grace the BLVD's exterior. By freely offering outdoor and indoor spaces of the hotel as blank canvases for artists, it's proved itself to be welcoming of the street-art aesthetic and the crowds that love it. 10730 Ventura Blvd., Studio City.
The Ritz-Carlton, Los Angeles
Compare the scene at BLVD to the scandal unfolding right now at the Ritz-Carlton Residences at L.A. Live, its condo section adjacent to the hotel. As of January 2011, the hotel was getting legitimate art-world kudos for its risky support of street artists, muralists and the shabby-chic but well-heeled ruffians who love them. Shepard Fairey deejayed a party there during the FADA Art Fair, and L.A. Art Machine was tapped to organize an extensive art show, including a now-infamously destroyed (or cleaned up in a clueless but not malicious accident, depending on who you ask) mural installation by Shark Toof, Mear One and Chor Boogie. An official lawsuit on behalf of the artists valuing the destroyed work at between $100,000 and $150,000 was filed recently, although it won't bring back the work — or the goodwill. Project curator Bryson Strauss of L.A. Art Machine said in a statement, “We knew Ritz-Carlton had commercial interests, but we took their excitement about this artwork, the artists and the event as genuine. The loss of 90 feet of murals by world-class artists is a tragedy. I can't get my head around the indifference.” 900 W. Olympic Blvd., dwntwn.
The sparkly, newish W Hotel on Hollywood Boulevard is a confection of sumptuous and smart design, with visual art of unusually high quality integrated fully into its look of futuristic retro glam. And like the Ritz, it has pricey, tricked-out condos for sale at its adjoining residences. Also, as with the Ritz, the art-centric lifestyle branding is intensive. But that's where the similarities end. The irony of showing Robert Longo's iconic late-'80s silhouette paintings Falling Businessmen in the lobby possibly is lost on the hotel administration and its guests, but either way, it's a striking choice that anyone who cared about New York art in the swinging good old days will appreciate. For a real estate showcase event, the hotel decorated its model suite with a series of paintings by a well-known local artist, Michael Salerno, along with renewable and reclaimed design pieces. The artists and their friends were invited to the very civilized afternoon party, which also doubled as a benefit for a local arts organization that Salerno supports. That's how you do it, Ritz. 6250 Hollywood Blvd., Hlywd.
The Standard Hotels, in both Hollywood and downtown, arguably are better at this art thing than anyone. From day one, the Standard has woven contemporary art into the very fabric of its stellar brand, partly in a successful bid for the attention of the coveted artsy demographic and partly because the people who work there have a true affinity for progressive culture. They are frequently happy to produce or allow art shows, happenings, book parties, public forums and performances — recent highlights include projects by Sylvia Ji, Miranda July and Ryan McGinness — and every month the exterior wall on the Sixth Street façade of the downtown branch hosts a new mural. The company's website is itself a kind of cultural hub featuring news, blogs, online art projects, info on local events and the like, going well beyond visual art to feature literature, music, film, design and fashion, but it's the embrace of visual art as its central draw that has made the Standards what they are. 550 S. Flower St., dwntwn.; 8300 Sunset Blvd., W. Hlywd.
Maximillian Gallery at the Sunset Marquis updates the hotel art shop in dramatic fashion. Its location in a posh West Hollywood hotel makes its focus on street art an unlikely choice, but it works, and the gallery has a strong program and a bright future even when compared with more serious, nonhotel galleries. 1200 Alta Loma Road, W. Hlywd.
Down the street, the Mondrian has been sort of following suit, inviting this past summer the Artspace online art gallery to open a pop-up store that offered access to works by A-list gallery stars such as Kara Walker, Ross Bleckner and Kenny Scharf. The Mondrian also worked with Culver City kunsthalle LAXART to present its own pop-up, featuring graphics–inspired painter Bobbi Woods. This past summer, Nicole Cohen's fashion- and furniture-inspired video art installation kicked off with a performance night organized by See Line Gallery, which was beloved by cocktail culturati and art people alike. 8440 Sunset Blvd., W. Hlywd.
The Hollywood Roosevelt
And finally, speaking of the dream team of art, hotels and cocktails: Patrón tequila's new Simply Perfect Art Project invited artists to create one-of-a-kind works for auction in support of local organizations, occupying vacant but well-located storefront windows. In this case, while technically not a program of the Roosevelt Hotel, Simply Perfect is happening right now in its boulevard-facing windows. The L.A. edition benefits Los Angeles Art Association/Gallery 825, where all the artists doing the project are members. Throughout December it hosted mixed-media painter and sculptor Shizuko Greenblatt; painter Katherine Rohrbacher; sculptural installation artist YaYa Chou; and sculptor-photographer-performance artist Marjan Vayghan, who will be present evenings through Dec. 31. 7000 Hollywood Blvd., Hlywd.