Curated collections give Baltimore hotel guests an artful stay
By Donna M. Owens
For The Baltimore Sun|
May 18, 2017 at 11:00 AM
Inside a glass skyscraper with views of Baltimore's Inner Harbor, visitors can discover sculpture that bends and curves, paintings in kaleidoscopic colors and canvasses in geometric shapes.
The ambiance is evocative of a modern museum or upscale gallery, but it's actually the Four Seasons Hotel Baltimore. The luxury property is part of a growing trend of hotels and resorts in the city and beyond that boast fine art, photography collections and furniture handcrafted by artisans.
Travelers who seek accommodations with an artful touch have ample options in the city. They include the Royal Sonesta Harbor Court Baltimore, Kimpton Hotel Monaco, The Ivy Hotel, Lord Baltimore Hotel and the new Sagamore Pendry Baltimore, to name a few.
Regionally, the Hyatt Regency Chesapeake Bay Golf Resort, Spa and Marina on Maryland's Eastern Shore highlights landmarks and nature scenes by local photographers and artists, among them George Wright's giclee "Jewel of the Choptank."
And the MGM National Harbor, the $1.4 billion resort casino in Prince George's County, boasts a professionally curated collection featuring about a dozen artists, including folk star Bob Dylan. His large-scale sculpted iron archway, "Portal," adorns the hotel's west entrance.
"You're seeing some of the more distinct properties embrace fine art," said Mark Myers, a private dealer and consultant who heads Atlantic Arts Inc. in Annapolis. "It's about identity and amenity."
Myers would know. Before the Four Seasons opened in 2011, he tapped a diverse roster of artists nationwide to assemble about 70 works. More recently, he oversaw MGM National Harbor's Heritage Collection.
The Four Seasons exhibits a bevy of artists, from Baltimore-based painter Karl Connolly to Sam Gilliam, credited with introducing the concept of a canvas hanging without stretcher bars.
"Many of our guests are art connoisseurs," said concierge supervisor Marama Nengel during a recent tour. "They often recognize work by certain artists or appreciate learning about those who are new to them."
The hotel's museum-quality pieces are informed by the Washington Color School, an art movement from the 1950s and '60s characterized by largely abstract works that utilize scale, form and color. The palette's hues run the gamut from electric blue to hot pink.
Displayed in the hotel's lobby and public spaces are four prints titled "Suite 16." The dramatic set was created by Richard Anuszkiewicz, a founder of op art, a 1960s and '70s movement centered on optical illusion.
Behind the concierge desk, one's eye might land on Gene Davis' "Jack in the Box" or "Battle for Grown Ups." Distinguished by colorful vertical stripes, the '60s-era paintings repeat particular colors to express varied rhythm.
Sculptural delights are part of the collection, too. "Pulse," by renowned contemporary artist Susie Lee, is freestanding, created with materials that include compressed glass rods, a polished, metal base and LEDs.
While the hotel's 256 guest rooms and suites feature art, the formal collection is tucked into every nook and cranny — from the 1,200-square-foot spa to the rooftop infinity pool and Wit & Wisdom, a Tavern by Michael Mina.
The Kimpton Hotel Monaco takes a similar approach, blending art seamlessly into its overall environs.
Matthew Hurlburt, area director of hotel operations for Kimpton Mid-Atlantic, explains that the hospitality brand has "ditched a 'trademark' style for signature elements that tie to the heritage of the region and mesh perfectly with local communities."
The Kimpton Hotel Monaco is housed inside a historic 1906 building downtown that once headquartered the B&O Railroad. Inside a soaring space awash in rich golds, blues, royal purples and red lacquer are original works by artist Craig Alan. His color-drenched piece of a woman dancer — titled "Danseur" — has a place of honor next to the front desk.
"We want our guests to have a sense of discovery as they explore our hotels, and unique design and artwork can play a large role in the overall experience," said Hurlburt.
The owners of the Lord Baltimore Hotel echoed that sentiment.
"Art is not just for museums and galleries. It's a catalyst for dialogue and makes for interesting conversations," Mera Rubell said in a statement. "At the Lord Baltimore, we share art with our guests as a way to inspire those conversations and create transformational experiences."
Rubell and her husband, Don, are major figures in the art world. Their Rubell Family Collection in Miami is among the largest private contemporary art collections in North America, having featured artists from Jean-Michel Basquiat to filmmaker John Waters. Works from the collection rotate in the hotel's LB Tavern, and 2,500 pieces of commissioned original art make up the hotel's decor. Each room features custom paintings, while Google-inspired photo collages in hallways depict Baltimore's people and places.
"Art permeates everything we do," said Gene-Michael Addis, the hotel's general manager.
Joszi Meskan, a San Francisco-based interior designer who worked on The Ivy Hotel, said 21st-century hoteliers can't afford what she termed "hotel art disease"— "that one image destined for the long wall next to the bed in each bedroom repeated 50 times in two different colors."
She commissioned Baltimore artist Kim Parr Roenigk to create art, including several murals, at the intimate Relais & Chateaux property, situated in a 19th-century restored Gilded Age mansion in the historic Mount Vernon neighborhood.
Besides pieces from all over the world in its communal spaces, most of The Ivy's 18 guest suites have armoires (referred to as "barmoires" because they house in-room mini bars) created by local artists and MICA students. Each is intricately painted with unique designs.
"The decor is not matchy-matchy," Meskan noted. "It is gallery-like in that there is something to stop and meditate on in each room."
At the Sagamore Pendry Baltimore, the new $60 million luxury hotel whose ownership includes Under Armour founder Kevin Plank, designer Patrick Sutton ensured that art infuses the now-refurbished 1914 Recreation Pier along the Fells Point waterfront.
"Much of the art is from Kevin and his wife's personal collection and is near and dear to them," said Sutton, who said designing the hotel was a three-year process. Curating the art involved several trips to Art Basel, the international fair, in Miami. "And we were very intentional about highlighting artists with local ties."
The arch entrance of the 128-room property is flanked by a pair of nautical-inspired sculptures by Baltimore architect and visual artist Adam Scott Cook, composed of rolled steel plates that Amish artisans helped create.
In an "infinity piece" located atop the entrance corridor next to the lobby, South Korea native and MICA graduate Chul Hyun Ahn intertwined colored light circles that appear to repeat endlessly and slowly change color. The lobby lounge features a 10-foot by 12-foot custom mural by Baltimore-based street artist Gaia, another MICA alum. It melds historical figures with flora, referencing themes of Charm City's role in American history.
The hotel's courtyard has been designed as a contemplative garden. Its centerpiece is a 3,500-pound, 12-foot-long bronze sculpture called "Horse and Bridle" by Colombian artist Fernando Botero. Near the pool deck, there's video art of a woman swimming in what appears to be a rectangular frame.
"People are mesmerized by it," said Jon Chocklett, director of sales and marketing, of the piece by Swiss artist Marck, called "Genestrom-Counter Current." "They'll just stand there and watch."
Periodically, hotel guests are so fascinated by art on display that they wish to take it home — by purchasing it, that is. The Royal Sonesta Harbor Court, part of a global brand that has embraced art since the 1960s, has a fine art gallery on its second floor, where works rotate quarterly and are for sale. It is curated by artist Crystal Moll (who owns an eponymous gallery in Federal Hill) and spotlights local talent. Prices vary, ranging from $500 upwards of $9,000.
At the Four Seasons, Nengel said, the art has elicited pricey offers.