The phrase “hotel art” is often used as a pejorative, conjuring in people’s minds images of corny sunsets or unimaginative, blocky abstraction. Though this is often the case, the history of hotel art is filled with interesting and good work—one example being the Florida Highwaymen, a loose collective of Black artists who sold their work to motel owners on the side of the highway. As hotels today introduce elevated curation into the guest experience, a premium is being placed on art that is historic and museum-quality, or the result of thorough, careful consideration of local artists. Below, five significant works of art to see in hotels.
Tondo, Nick Cave
Shinola Hotel, Detroit
Growing up with little, Nick Cave developed an interest in hand-me-downs and found objects. The artist’s renowned Soundsuits are a combination of fantastic character and sculptural, dreamlike costume. At the Shinola, Cave’s work Tondo (2010) is a 10-foot-wide circular piece made of found fabrics, the sequins and embroidery resulting in a massive, mythic tapestry. Find it in the mezzanine lounge, where dozens of works by artists such as Detroit’s legendary Tyree Guyton are hung beside each other, salon-style.
Third Eye, James Turrell
Fontainebleau, Miami Beach, Florida
The Fontainebleau, an aesthetic masterpiece by visionary Miami Modern architect Morris Lapidus, also contains a thrilling collection of contemporary art. Behind the front desk is Third Eye (2008) by the iconic light and landscape artist James Turrell. When he’s not converting an extinct volcano into a work of art, Turrell makes pieces like the one at the Fontainebleau—a mesmerizing triptych of shifting fields of color.
Double Sea, Mette Tommerup
SLS Cancún Hotel & Residences, Mexico
One day, Denmark-born, Miami-residing artist Mette Tommerup decided to throw some of her paintings into the sea. They came back with salt damage; some even grew crystals. This is how Tommerup happened upon the method she used for the creation of Double Sea (2020), on view at the SLS in Cancún. An installation of wall-sized canvases portrays rippling, fractal patterns like those you’d find in the Atlantic, though the artist also sees these as the workings of our minds.
Thin Lips, Jean-Michel Basquiat and Andy Warhol
W South Beach, Miami Beach, Florida
The collaboration between Jean-Michel Basquiat and Andy Warhol—a young Black artist receiving institutional recognition, and a white artist near the end of his career who was an institution—was at first panned by critics, who found it gimmicky. But recently there have been reconsiderations of the pieces, such as Thin Lips (1985), found at the W on South Beach. A sly critique of the business of art (and the art of business), this is a historic work by two of the most revered American artists.
Silver River, Maya Lin
Aria, Las Vegas
Known for her Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C., Maya Lin has contributed to American art and architecture like few others have. Her piece Silver River (2009), behind the desk of the Aria, Las Vegas, is a recreation of the Colorado River made from reclaimed silver. Eighty-four feet long and weighing nearly 4,000 pounds, the evocation of the nourishing waterway speaks to the importance of understanding these sites as critical ecosystems.