Considering all the characteristics hotels share with galleries and museums—ample wall space, a daily turnover of visitors, adjustable lighting—it’s no surprise that many of the city’s most prestigious properties are increasingly featuring world-class art. And it certainly doesn’t hurt the brand. From big-name artists like Cy Twombly, Damien Hirst and Andy Warhol to graffiti murals and edgy installations, New York City’s top art hotels give many museums a run for their money. Below, our guide to the best art-centric accommodations in town.
20 East 76th St.
Taking inspiration from nearby Museum Mile, the Surrey features an outstanding collection of modern art and photography. The experience begins in the lobby, which is marked by a wall-size photograph of Kate Moss by Chuck Close. It’s a bold move to have a massive face hanging in the lobby, but it exemplifies the Surrey’s philosophy of celebrating progressive art. The rest of the collection reveals this too, including“Graffiti Armoire” by the London-based design team Jimmy Martin, and “Smoke Rings” by Donald Sultan, a series of lyrical prints depicting ethereal, wobbly smoke rings against an ink-black background. Fittingly, Sultan’s pieces hang in the bar. In fact, much of the art is incorporated into an appropriate context, so guests don’t so much gaze at the art as live amid it. The collection is rounded out by a string of modern masters, including Richard Serra, Claus Oldenberg (“Study for Sneaker Lace”) and a striking image of Frida Kahlo by Imogen Cunningham.
The Ace Hotel
20 W. 29th St
If Jean-Michel Basquiat and a tech start-up got together to design a hotel lobby, it might look like the Ace. The massive lobby is the gravitational center of the Ace—a 21st-century blend of digital savvy, urban art and sceney lounge. Eighteen-foot ceilings rise over comfortable vintage sofas and communal wooden tables reminiscent of a collegiate library. A wall of 4,000 graffiti stickers collected by Bronx artist Michael Anderson brings some city grit to the room, and a glass taxidermy case of badgers adds Victorian flavor. Shelves are filled with obscure novels and scientific texts embossed with molecules and atoms. Upstairs, each room and suite has a distinct, original piece of art, like a wall painted with intertwining black tree branches that appear to be dripping paint. Ace Hotel owner Alex Calderwood has a background in fashion and design, and the finely-tuned decorative accents that define the Ace reflect that, from the old wooden chests and turntables to the desk-mounted pencil-sharpeners. Remember those?
The Chambers Hotel
12 W. 56th St.
Don’t have time to swing by the New Museum? Stay here instead. The Chambers has over 500 original pieces, many by emerging artists. Designed by David Rockwell, the entire hotel lends itself to displaying art, from the bi-level, wide-open lobby to the light-filled rooms. Here, you’re never more than a paintbrush-length away from a piece of art. Each floor features artistic installations by artists like John Waters (yes, that one) to painter John Newsom, whose pieces favor colorful flowers and fruits. And every guestroom is hung with its own original art, from swirling paintings to black-and-white photography. The hotel excels at contemporary Pop Art, and pieces include “Shout Future Joy” by Joel Holub, which is a riff on the soap brands Shout and Joy; Lael Marshall’s “Butter”—a pad of butter suspended in midair; and the boldly named “The Center is Always and Everywhere” by Christian Lowenstein, depicting black circles of varying sizes competing for space in an orange sphere.
The Roger Smith
501 Lexington Ave.
Walk by the Roger Smith, and you may see a sequined dancer shimmying behind a large window, murals being unfurled in the lobby, or an impromptu fashion show on the sidewalk. The Roger Smith doesn’t just dabble in art, it commissions and develops it, much like a gallery or museum. The hotel is hard to miss, with a façade that displays the art piece “Urban Crystals,” constructed of twisted aluminum sheet metal, and an entrance flanked by bronze sculptures. Though abstract, the sculptures are strikingly fluid and curvy, almost anthropomorphic. The artist is actually hotel President and CEO, James Knowles, whose creative vision has defined the hotel from its early days. The lobby features changing exhibits throughout the year, as does the adjoining pop-up retail space and converted storefront, the Corner, which hosts everything from edgy performance art to 3-D installations, all on view for the thousands of New Yorkers who stream by daily. Particularly memorable was “Bear Forest” by Spanish artist dEmo, which consisted of bear sculptures in all sizes and colors and was a welcome addition to the monotonous Midtown commute. Adjacent is Window at 125, which features performance pieces like “Reflect,” where artist Elana Katz employs ashes from cremation.
Gramercy Park Hotel
2 Lexington Ave.
The Gramercy Park Hotel feels little bit like a plush annex to the MoMA. It consistently tops the list of hotels with the best modern art collections in the nation, with works by Andy Warhol, Keith Haring, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Tom Wesselman, Damien Hirst and Fernando Botero, among others. The rotating exhibits include Warhol’s vivid portraits of Howdy Doody, Robert Mapplethorpe and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Wesselman’s “Pink Bra and Blue Shoes,” and a signature Botero depicting the full-figured “Celestina.” And the hotel itself is a work of art, designed by artist and Academy Award-nominated director Julian Schnabel, whose aesthetic fingerprint is evident everywhere, not just in the formidable art collection on display (which also includes his own paintings), but in signature touches like the bronze door handles, deep velvet upholstery and colorful Moorish tiles.
301 Park Ave.
Cole Porter’s piano, an heirloom gold platter, a vintage album cover of Lena Horne—when you’ve been around as long as the Waldorf-Astoria, hotel artifacts become art, revealing the legacy of a gilded age. This Deco beauty, which spans an entire block, is one of New York City’s most famous and historic hotels. There’s even a daily tour just to explore its art and history. Old-world grandeur permeates, particularly in the central lobby, which is presided over by a nine-foot-tall bronze clock that was created at the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893. But it’s the renovated Park Avenue Art Deco lobby that’s the true highlight. Restored to its original design, the lobby’s white columns rise to a ceiling crowned in glass panels, bronze and nickel, materials original to the construction of the hotel. The pièce de résistance, however, is at your feet: the floor mosaic of the Wheel of Life by French artist Louis Rigal is made of 148,000 tiny tiles.
La Maison d’Art
259 W. 132nd St.; lamaisondart.ny
For young and unknown artists, marketing your work is often harder than actually creating it. Few galleries and museums are willing to take a chance on a new artist, but the only way to become known is to get your own gallery show. La Maison d’Art offers an alternative. This inviting Harlem guesthouse doubles as an art and performance gallery, celebrating emerging local and international work, from delicate photographs that explore mirror imagery to paintings that trace the evolution of Harlem. La Maison d’Art also pays homage to the nearby “Swing Street” of the Harlem Renaissance with musical performances, often featuring spirited Afrojazz.
The James New York
27 Grand St.; jameshotels.com
These days, SoHo is known more for its designer boutiques and cocktail bars than for its galleries and studios. In some ways, the James New York bridges the gap between old and new SoHo, featuring both an urbane nightlife scene—rooftop lounge, fashionable restaurant—and experimental art that reflects the neighborhood’s early days, before artists decamped for cheaper studio space in places like Red Hook. The James works closely with the SoHo-based nonprofit collective Artists Space to develop a well-curated collection with a progressive twist. This collaboration is perhaps best exemplified by artist Sarah Frost’s “QWERTY,” a piece in the lobby constructed with thousands of recycled keyboard keys. The hotel also hosts a pop-up studio that presents exhibits through the year, and every hallway in the property features a different artist, from Brandon Neubauer’s dreamy time-lapse photography to Sarah Nicole Phillips’ quirky collage paintings.
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