Hotel Figueroa is not the only boutique hotel with an art program, not even the only one staging exhibitions; others, too, have built permanent collections over the years through acquisitions and commissions. But Hotel Figueroa is uniquely intentional in its integration of visual art into its character, in an inspirational way that specifically honors and expands its own laudable, pioneering feminist history.

 

It was opened in 1926 by the YWCA for an exclusively female clientele, as a haven for solo female travelers who were prohibited from checking into most hotels without a male chaperone. Even through major contemporary renovations to its splendid 1920s Spanish Colonial style, it has not strayed from this foundation. Several original architectural details remain that pay tribute to this history, but it’s in the hotel’s ever-evolving art program that the depth of this commitment and the joy with which it is pursued make themselves felt. In addition to carefully curated editioned works for guest rooms, and a swashbuckling exterior mural, the hotel has been amassing an enviable permanent collection almost entirely comprised of Los Angeles-area women artists, and hosts a regular Featured Artist exhibition in its dedicated passageway gallery. Even the elevator door landings have original murals on them.

America Martin in the Hotel Figueroa Art Collection

The current Featured Artist is the luminous Ruthanna Hopper whose works are on view in the lobby’s main wall and broad vaulted archway space (as well as the self-care micro spa H.E.R. Suite thematically stocked with women-lead companies’ self-care products), now through March 2023. Hopper’s work is non-representational, but it’s not quiet, not just pretty. It’s swirling and emotional, rich with untold mysteries in their organic nuances and hidden details. Like all the hotel’s collected art, it’s not just a flashy design hit from across a space — it’s a contemplative, stirring abstraction that hints at holding more than meets the eye. It’s the perfect example of how Hotel Figueroa elevates the concept of what “hotel art” can be, what it does, and what it means.

Ruthanna Hopper at Hotel Figueroa

“Yes, it’s quite remarkable what they’re doing. Really, I mean, I feel like they’ve completely embraced the feminist history in such a compelling way,” Hopper tells L.A. Weekly. “It’s quite moving. It’s unusual for a hotel space, what they’re creating; it has this feeling of a home museum. From a visual artist’s perspective, it’s so compelling that it’s this living, breathing organism. You know that’s very interesting to me in particular, because in my practice, I feel rooted through my upbringing in feeling space and movement. I’ve been so influenced by my grandmother’s work in dance and the environment, and my grandfather’s work in the landscape. And these are the issues that they as artists worked with, that they would bring philosophically into this idea of being in space with human beings, and constant motion.”

 

Hopper (the daughter of Daria Halprin and Dennis Hopper) grew up in Marin County, in the living laboratory of artists and dancers gathered at the Mountain Home Studio to work with her mother and grandmother, the celebrated dancer Anna Halprin, as well as her grandfather, renowned landscape architect Lawrence Halprin.

hotel figueroa art

Ruthanna Hopper at Hotel Figueroa

“This is my first time showing in L.A.,” Hopper says. “But I’ve been working as an artist honestly all my life, in the sense that I grew up in an incredibly sort of bohemian environment in Marin County, which had a very big impact on me. I grew up amongst dancers and artists, and then meandered about and traveled, and I did lots of different things. Only to come home to this, back to my art practice. The paintings themselves deal with issues of inheritance and heirlooms, and what it means to deal with unresolved memory and peeling back layers, to find oneself. This particular collection of paintings comes out of a personal hibernation period that was met with the collective wintering we all just experienced. And the practice of painting, for me, is a way to sort of touch base with hope.”

Ruthanna Hopper at Hotel Figueroa

The Halprin dance work was about discovering that essentially we all are dancers, and “bringing it off the stage and into our regular mundane lives,” says Hopper. Her grandfather was famous for his progressive landscape design, and he was hugely impacted by his wife’s work —choreography executed in nature — and because he was so involved with the environment and landscape design, she was hugely impacted by his work in turn. So the idea that her works would be presented in a bustling public space with such a rich history, and to literally witness the forming of memories and the energy of travel is appealing to Hooper. “It’s kind of a natural progression for me that I continue to study that work, to carry it forward and that my personal practices are very much impacted by that space.”

Shizu Saldamando, Hotel Figueroa Artist 2019

Previous artists who have made their indelible marks on the Hotel Fig’s art program include recent special guest Shyama Golden and, of course, the exterior mural by Bella Gomez, as well as beloved local artists like Shizu Saldamando, Wednesday Aja, Amber Vittoria, Sophie Kipner, and many more. The permanent collection includes popular and critically acclaimed artists like Lily Stockman, Sarah Awad, Jesse Mockrin, Heather Gwen Martin, Karen Freeman, Alison Van Pelt, Nancy Baker Cahill, Alexandra Grant, MacCauley, Whitney Hubbs, America Martin, Mattea Perrotta, April Street, Minas Halaj, and Heather Carson. The rooms feature editioned works by artists such as Cate Parr, Kelly Witmer, Jess Black, Satsuki Shibuya, Ellen Cantor, Michelle Blade, and others.

Alison Van Pelt in the Hotel Figueroa Art Collection

“I do feel the energy of the women who’ve come through there,” says Hopper. “I mean, not to get too out there with it, but it’s just where I come from. I think about those women travelers and what it required for them to get there, to a place where they were able to live freely and safely as single women. And I appreciate how the hotel is upholding this feminist history. I imagine what that space was like in the 1920s and who those women were who were able to get there. It was quite radical, and I do think that by putting these paintings on the walls, there is a kind of continuation of holding that space, myself and the others in the featured artist program and the collection. I really like flipping the script on what it is to bring art out of the usual spaces and into our daily lives. It’s a wonderful collection. I feel honored to be with those other women artists. It’s quite something.”

Hotel Figueroa is located at 939 S. Figueroa St., downtown; hotelfigueroa.com.  

Jesse Mockrin in the Hotel Figueroa Art Collection

Alexandra Grant in the Hotel Figueroa Art Collection

Sarah Awad in the Hotel Figueroa Art Collection

LA Weekly