For the record: I love hotels. And I think museums could learn a lot from them about making visitors feel welcome. But there’s one thing that continually catches my eye from a professional point of view. So allow me to share a few words today on the topic of “Art in Hotels.”
Art in hotels is great. Art can comfort those who are feeling lonely. It can lead to new discoveries and awaken treasured memories. Art can be inspirational, and it can have a calming effect after a hectic day. But art can also do the opposite: it can make a hotel guest feel extremely uncomfortable. I experienced the following examples myself, during one long weekend in various hotels.
1. The Subtle Horror of Heirlooms
Nothing is nicer than art we inherit. There are often real pearls in the well guarded treasures of our ancestors. There is, however, a simple rule of thumb: if you must remove something from your house because it gives your grandchild nightmares, it’s hardly appropriate to hang it in a hotel room instead:
A nature scene in copper? Perfect for a country hotel! What’s not to like?
After all, what says “Welcome” better than the dead eyes of a zombie-bullfinch (Pyrrhula pyrrhula)?
2. You’ll Hang Right with Us!
A while ago, a clever publisher of art posters had an idea: In a society in which we can no longer be sure that people will recognize art when they see it, a little help might be required. So he supplied reprints of famous works of art with enlarged, stylized signatures of the artists—“Vincent,” “Monet,” “Manet,” etc. It seems like hotels are fond of this kind of art print, and I bet you’ve already seen this on one of van Gogh’s sunflower bouquets or another. In one hotel I had Monet’s “Fields in the Spring” above my bed.
The original is undeniably a masterpiece of Impressionist art. Yet in this case it was a picture under which no registrar could ever sleep well. You can see in the first photo that the colors have faded after years of exposure to UV light. But the true horror doesn’t become apparent until the photo with flash.
The environmental conditions in the hotel room were obviously anything but ideal. As if that weren’t enough, the frame was secured in a manner I have not often seen before. Unfortunately, the lighting was too dim to document this sufficiently:
The picture was actually nailed to the wall through the frame… In the hotel’s defense, the room was otherwise fine and the food was excellent.
3. Do You Have the Monet in Apricot?
Art reproductions have enjoyed a long and honorable tradition. They present us with the opportunity to be surrounded by valuable art without having to spend huge amounts of money on it. Naturally, one usually chooses the work of art to suit the room. Recently, though, I noticed some hotel art that turned this principle upside-down: instead of finding art that suited the room, the art was made to suit it.
Sometimes sections are extracted from masterpieces in ways the artists never originally intended. For example, there’s the woman with the umbrella in the aforementioned “Fields in the Spring,” extracted, enlarged, and in portrait mode. She fits better in the corridor that way, and there isn’t so much unnecessary undergrowth in the picture… In an extreme example, the colors are adjusted to make them a better match with the wallpaper.
Another annoying custom is mass production made to look like real paintings. Closer examination reveals these to be inkjet on canvas stapled to boards made to look like a stretcher frame. This kind of mass-produced art can be found in any style (particularly popular, for example, is something based on Edward Hopper for fast-food restaurants), and abstract themes are especially common. Presumably because they’re extremely low-maintenance: they’re considered intellectual from the start and can be produced in any color imaginable. And whoever finds a motif that can hang as a matched set over a double bed wins:
Whether it’s really art is debatable. In this case, I think someone went through a catalog looking for décor to match the room. And the fact that you can’t borrow a level from the reception desk to get them hung straight, at least, was the final straw.
I can’t exclude the possibility, however, that the hotel owner especially liked the piece shown above. Beauty ultimately lies in the eye of the beholder. Still, even if you like something a lot, so much so that you can’t get enough of it, a hotel owner should never make the mistake—even with mass productions—of hanging the same piece in two places to which the same guest has access!
I find it amazing that they managed to hang both sets nearly identically crooked!
Translated from German into English by Cindy Opitz.