The Art Hotel

Check in and check out a major contemporary art collection

By Bonnie Gangelhoff

The Art, A Hotel sits in the heart of Denver’s Golden Triangle neighborhood, next door to the Denver Art Museum.

This story was featured in the October 2018 issue of Southwest Art magazine. Get the Southwest Art October 2018 print issue or digital download now–then subscribe to Southwest Art and never miss another story.

Step off the elevator into the reception area of The Art, A Hotel, in central Denver, and you’re greeted by a young woman carrying a bundle of flowers. She stands frozen to the floor like a statue—because she is one: SINGER is a 21st-century bronze by renowned artist Kiki Smith. Nearby, an Ed Ruscha tapestry sprawls across an entire wall bearing giant letters that spell out “INDUSTRIAL STRENGTH SLEEP.”

Welcome to Denver’s sleek, modern, art-filled hotel. Whereas hotels once were just places to spend the night, newer luxury ventures are now doubling as museums and galleries. One oft-cited reason: Hotels want to attract millennial guests who seek unique experiences beyond mere room and board. In other words, to stay competitive these days, upscale hotels may have to deliver a wow factor.

The Art certainly delivers, with 50 original artworks on view in public spaces like the lobbies, hallways, and meeting rooms and in its restaurant, FIRE. On guest floors, elevators open to reveal original artworks. For example, on the seventh-floor landing, visitors come face-to-face with a Jim Dine painting that depicts a bathrobe—a witty choice for a hotel. Each room on that floor contains a Dine print. In fact, each of The Art’s 165 guest rooms includes prints and lithographs by an array of artists.

Located in the art-rich Golden Triangle, the hotel seems a perfect fit for the neighborhood.It sits adjacent to the Denver Art Museum, around the corner from the Clyfford Still Museum, and across the street from the Colorado History Center. National publications like Architectural Digest and Travel + Leisure have singled out the hotel for its world-class modern art collection. Earlier this year, a reporter for the New York Times observed that she knew the hotel was doing something right when museum directors asked if she had visited The Art.

The hotel is the brainchild of local businessman and philanthropist J. Landis “Lanny” Martin, who also is the chairman of the Denver Art Museum’s board of trustees. Some pieces on view are from Martin’s own collection, and others were commissioned. To curate, gather, and install the treasure trove, Martin enlisted Dianne Vanderlip, a former curator at the museum who founded its modern and contemporary art department. “I wanted people to have a good time, whether they are on serious business or vacation,” Vanderlip says. “I wanted them to take a deep breath and relax. That’s what good art can do. Our vision was to show the highest quality work we could get by top artists that is also accessible.”

Approaching the hotel from street level, the litany of big-name contemporary artists begins. On the ceiling of the portico, more than 20,000 LED lights flicker overhead, evoking the entrance to a red-carpet event or a Broadway theater. The computer-controlled light installation is the work of Leo Villareal, who is best known for illuminating cables on the Bay Bridge in San Francisco.

Push through the glass doors into the lobby, and your eye meets a bold blue, yellow, and red drawing by the late Sol LeWitt. “We selected it for [that spot] because we wanted the bright colors to show at night through the glass doors. When people walk by, they pay attention,” Vanderlip says. “It’s a highlight in the collection—an iconic, sensational piece by a very influential artist.”

Nearby there’s a Claes Oldenburg sculpture, a Frank Gehry-designed lamp, and a painting by the late abstract expressionist Sam Francis. Around the corner and next to elevators that carry guests to the fourth-floor reception desk, a neon piece by Tracey Emin bears the words I CAN FEEL YOUR SMILE.

But the fun has only just begun. The elevator door opens, and a video starring artist William Wegman’s signature Weimaraners unspools on the back wall. The droopy-faced canines move up and down in a loop, mimicking the movement of passengers—a welcome alternative to insipid elevator music.

It’s not only the art itself but the placement of it that often dazzles the eye as it moves seamlessly from one piece to the next. Take Smith’s SINGER sculpture in the reception area. The figure appears to wave hello, and the tips of her fingers point to a towering sculpture of a horse. According to the hotel’s sales and marketing coordinator, Giulia Chioetto, OTTER is one of the most talked-about artworks among guests. The sculpture is estimated to weigh several tons, but Montana artist Deborah Butterfield applied a patina that tricks the eye into thinking the piece is made of driftwood and is just as light. “Guests enjoy discovering that the piece is made of bronze,” Chioetto says. (By the way, the piece is named not for the aquatic animal but for a small town in Montana.)

On this summer day, the doors to the adjacent open-air terrace are flung open. It’s a regular gathering spot for happy hour, attracting everyone from lawyers who work at the judicial center across the street to staffers from the surrounding museums. In the corner, a figurative sculpture titled LEGENDS BEGIN oversees the lively scene, a subtle touch of the Southwest by the late Native American artist Allan Houser.

In addition to social hours, weighty business takes place in the hotel’s meeting rooms, and many locals have favorites. According to Chioetto, lawyers and judges enjoy gathering in the Bear Den, named after two paintings depicting bears. But these are no ordinary bears—they have tartan-plaid coats where brown fur should be. SOME CHOOSE TO BELIEVE IT and BEAR CUB by Sean Landers bring a whimsical ambience to a room that bears witness to some serious people and discussions.

Adjacent to the Bear Den is the Bottoms Up Room, a smaller conference space where the focal point is a glass chandelier. This piece, titled BOTTOMS UP, consists of dozens of yellow, orange, and red goblets hung upside down. The glasses are held together by a metal chain, wire, and various electrical parts. The artist, Joel Otterson, is known for repurposing common objects. On a wall nearby, EARLY MORNING MIST is on display, a work by Coloradan Sushe Felix that suggests a city at night.

While there is an overall emphasis throughout the hotel on pieces from world art centers, two meeting rooms pay homage to Colorado legends. Allesandro’s Room honors Betty Woodman and displays one of her color woodcuts. Woodman, who died earlier this year, was the first living woman to have a solo exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. Another meeting room features ENIGMA OF MAGNETIC FORCES, a painting by Denver’s premier modernist artist, the late Vance Kirkland. The piece also references the recently reopened Kirkland Museum of Fine & Decorative Arts around the corner.

Last year the hotel installed one of its most buzz-worthy pieces. Martin and Vanderlip—realizing that the only amenity the hotel lacked was an ocean view—commissioned artist Rob Reynolds to create OCEAN VIEW FOR DENVER, a mural on the side of a nearby building. It’s visible from the hotel’s restaurant, and guests who book the Mountain View Suite can see both the mural and the Rocky Mountains. “When guests check in, they are amused when we tell them they have a mountain and an ocean view,” Chioetto says. It’s a good example of the hotel’s overall lighthearted approach to some very important artwork. “Contemporary art can be fun,” Vanderlip says. And so can overnight hotel stays.

This story was featured in the October 2018 issue of Southwest Art magazine. Get the Southwest Art October 2018 print issue or digital download now–then subscribe to Southwest Art and never miss another story.

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