Arts + Culture: Art of Hospitality

Filed on July 31, 2009

Hotels have stepped up efforts to showcase artworks on their premises in a bid to woo customers. Anu Prabhakar takes a tour of three arty hotels

I will take a deluxe suite... and want to place a room service order for a Caesar Salad with avocado, sparkling water... and, yes, some art please.” With the hospitality and art sector merging like never before, no longer does this request sound bizarre. As hotels like the Burj al Arab don the cover of every postcard from Dubai, the hospitality sector is at its competitive best. More and more hotels have begun to look at stunning art and sculpture pieces to place their hotel apart from the rest of the herd. “It feels very good to see that Dubai started this trend,” says Diana Ionescu, PR and marketing manager of Novotel and Ibis Hotel, (World Trade Centre) in Dubai. “Four years ago, Ibis was one of the first hotels that supported and promoted young artists. It is also something guests like as it makes an interesting diversion and creates talking points.”

At Ibis, guests’ conversations revolve around the delicious food and the tastefully decorated hotel lobby — and if a diner happens to like an art piece well enough, then it could be his! (For a price, of course!) Each painting at the hotel is accompanied by the artist’s business card. “Not everyone expects to see an art exhibition once you walk into a hotel,” explains Sameh El Amri, deputy manager, Ibis Hotel. The hotel’s lobby is home to paintings by Dubai-based French painter and artist Isabelle Noor.

Choosing art for a public place like a hotel is no piece of cake. For instance, Ibis sees to it that paintings with Arabic words or a religious connotation do not reach its posh lobby. “We do not want to hurt the sentiments of the mixed crowd that comes to dine here,” Sameh explains. Hence, art pieces here are mostly abstract, with water themed paintings, an artwork made using real desert sand, the outline of an Arab woman filled out with roses-like designs and the painting of a human’s five fingers.

As Isabelle explains, an open palm with the five fingers stretched out is a symbol of peace used by peace activists. Isabelle, like many others of her ilk, agrees that hotel art has been a boon for many small-time artists, like her. “Art galleries are money oriented and they will choose your art based in your style and their customers. But if hotels like what you do, they will launch you. ”

Roughly 27 years ago, the 135-feet stained mural, which stands proudly even today, was installed at Ramada Hotel, Dubai, in 1982. The mural was judged as being the largest in the world — a record that stood unbeaten for many years. “When we came in 1982, the mural painting was already installed. The painting was made in London and they shipped it here, in pieces. Many guests, especially Europeans, came over to see the painting,” remembers Sarath Devasurendra, director of engineering and one of the oldest employees at the hotel. In Europe, this merge has been taken to the next step with hotels having tie-ups with museums, whereby hotels change their exhibits bi-yearly. “The process of selecting art involves the interior designer, the owning company (as there is a cost involved) and sometimes even the artist. They make sure that the piece fits in with the surroundings with a personal touch — something that people will like,” explains Olivier Berrivin, general manager of the Ramada. The mural, which contains a series of 28 different species of flowers and shrubs done in stained glass, has managed to draw crowds to the hotel. Tour operators have included ‘mural-seeing’ in their programmes and have shown off the mural to wide-eyed tourists. “We have postcards of the mural kept in guests’ rooms, so that they can write back to their relatives and friends back home, saying that they are staying in a hotel which has this mural painting,” Berrivin points out proudly.

Art consultant Thuraya Kamber firmly believes in one thing — interior spaces are incomplete without art. Thuraya, who works for WA International, points out that hotels have always valued art, which is why one might shy away from calling this merge a ‘trend’; but art’s role is becoming increasingly important in this sector is obvious, she adds. “Hoteliers are placing greater value on art, realising that having art adds value, culture, uniqueness and prestige to the hotel and distinguishes it from its rivals.” Art can take many forms; be it artworks like paintings, drawings, etching, sculptures or prints, photography and so on. “The way art is displayed or installed is also a form of art,” she says. Spectacular artwork in a hotel will lead guests into looking at the hotel in a different light. “The hotel is now perceived as unique, cultured, sophisticated, stylish, trendy and hip,” Thuraya stresses.

The Address hotel, next to The Burj, has a magnificent sculpture ‘La Concha’ by Steven Berlino stationed at the entrance by the fountain — a prelude to the visual splendour that awaits guests inside. The next step forward leads to Megareus — a towering glass sculpture with its bottom, sea blue half gradating towards a lighter shade of green. This was sculpted by UK-based artist Amanda Brisbane, whose sculptures, moulded from fire glass, can be found around the hotel.

Taking the stairs, an artwork catches the eye — seashells are arranged on the canvas in such a way that its brown and pearly white exterior creates a spiraling effect — and puts viewers into a heady trance. The work’s brilliance lies in its sheer simplicity. “Hotels and resorts have been patrons of art ... of late, this has gained further momentum with pieces of art occupying place of pride in the lobby of hotels and in guest rooms,” explains Laura Perez, director, public relations, The Address. “Having an impressive piece of art definitely becomes a centre of attraction. Art enthusiasts especially warm up to the art on display and in some instances communicate their appreciation to our associates.”

So, a deluxe suite, Caesar Salad, sparkling water and some art? Coming your way, rightaway!

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