Where Does Hotel Art Come From?

The Kimpton Hotel Born in Denver displays art by photographer . Cris Molina

Having your art mass-produced and hung in major hotels could be a career-changing windfall, though it's not every artist's definition of success. Regardless of your viewpoint, the need exists — and it's a big need.

More and more high-end properties are collecting and displaying original works, but almost every major chain buys art to reprint and use as decor.

How does the hotel art market work? How do hotels choose what to buy? Once you start digging into the subject, there's a lot to know about hotel art.

Has hotel art changed?

Frequent travelers may have noticed a change in hotel art over the past 10 to 20 years. Before then, chains and franchises usually had to choose from a handful of pre-produced pictures to put in their rooms. That's why hotel guests in the 1990s and early 2000s encountered the same flower paintings and landscapes again and again, even when they traveled to different parts of the country, as Marketplace explains.

Thanks to the digital revolution, printing pictures and customizing them, is now much easier. This has given hoteliers, office building managers, restaurants and retailers more options for choosing artwork and tailoring it to fit their brand and location.

The brand comes first

Kimpton hotel lobby artwork
Many hotels now include art in lobby as well as the art you traditionally see in the rooms. Cris Molina

Even with this newfound flexibility, hotels usually remain faithful to their brand image, simply because brand matters more than anything else in the hospitality industry. Image is often the only thing that differentiates competitors, and guests often choose the same hotel chain because they like the "feel" of it. Every aspect of the decor, including the art, needs to provide that comforting familiarity.

For some hotels, the art guidelines might require certain colors or a "bright" color scheme. For others, the brand is more locally focused. Hotel Indigo, part of International Hotel Group (which includes Holiday Inn and InterContinental), requires that all its locations feature black-and-white photographs that were taken within a few blocks of the hotel’s location. Guests won’t find the same images in every hotel, but they will find uniform style at every Indigo property.

How do hotels select art?

Unless they have personal relationships with someone in the hotel design industry, artists have two ways to get their art into hotels. They can look for "calls for entry" — which a hotel chain might put out when they're searching for new artwork. The other option is to work with an agent or art consultant. These pros generally have connections in the the hotel industry and can help artists match their work with a certain brand. This service can come at a steep price (consultants take up to 50 percent of the sale price), but this arrangement can give the artist a much better chance at getting work in front of a hotel’s creative decision maker, according to Artsy Shark.

For some artists, working with an art consultant gives them more time to focus on their art without worrying about maintaining relationships with art buyers. Consultants may also have connections in more than one industry; doctors' offices, libraries, department stores and other places also may need this service, too.

What about original work?

hotel wall collage
Gone are the days of stock images matted in cheap frames. Many hotels now feature artists with unique styles. Cris Molina

In the luxury hotel sector, brands are foregoing reprints and are seeking to differentiate themselves with original artwork.This idea fits with their desire to offer a one-of-a-kind experience that guests feel is worthy of a higher price tag. In some places, such as the Beaumont Hotel in London, guests may choose to stay in a certain room because of the art displayed there.

Even so, hotel displays are often seen as "decor" not "art." Even many luxury hotels want to make their installations as neutral as possible so they appeal to the widest range of guests and don't challenge anyone’s sensibilities.

Original hotel art may also have a local angle. The Kimpton Hotel Born in Denver has original and limited-edition works created specifically for the hotel by 32 Denver-based artists. The works, which are diverse in style and subject matter, were commissioned in conjunction with Denver’s Museum of Contemporary Art.

The Airbnb effect

Another reason why more hotels are looking into original art is the popularity of Airbnb. Travelers now have a variety of unique accommodation options. They don't have to stay in the same predictable hotel. Art is one way brands can try to walk the tightrope of appeasing both guests in search of a cookie-cutter hotel and those who want something unique.

Like Indigo Hotels, Kimpton Hotels works with local artists. Why? Kimpton’s creative director recently explained the strategy to the New York Times: "Rather than things that are mass-produced and come across as a little uninspired, people are looking more for ideas that speak to them as individuals."

Paris-based art consultant Alex Toledano, who works with Ritz Carlton, among others, also highlights this idea, telling the Financial Times that "hotels are willing to take more of a risk. That is what is making art in hotels exciting right now. Our clients are asking for a diversity of art that we wouldn’t have expected a couple of years ago."

The cutting edge

Tel Aviv’s NYX Hotel took this diversity trend a step further. The hotel brand taps local artists to create works that are specifically designed for the space where they're to be displayed. Some street artists work directly on the walls themselves, while other NYX art installations are meant to challenge guests so they can't help but stop and look.

At the Emperor Qianmen, a hotel in Beijing, it seems the venue is built around the art, not the other way around. This hotel has an installation that literally rains on guests as they walk past.

It's just one more example of hotel chains differentiating themselves. So the next time you're in a hotel, check out the art on the walls. It might speak to your sensibilities more than you would think.