New York properties changing the hotel art landscape

By Felicity Long
Remember when "hotel art" was a derogatory term? Lately, a slew of New York hotels have put a fresh spin on the concept by using their public spaces to showcase art exhibitions that range from museum-quality paintings to fashion photography and outre sculpture.

What is especially interesting about this trend is that these high-end properties are exhibiting art that not only meshes with the ambience of the hotels themselves but also draws inspiration from the neighborhoods that surround them.

Gramercy Park Hotel

Gramercy Park Hotel Andy WarholFor eye-popping modern art displayed on a large scale, the five-star Gramercy Park Hotel, which has hosted everyone from Humphrey Bogart to Babe Ruth in its early glory days, is especially noteworthy because of the dramatic nature of its transformation when taken over by hotelier Ian Schrager in 2003. The self-described bohemian property was tired and even a little seedy by then, but Schrager, who no longer owns the hotel, brought in artist Julian Schnabel to design the interior, and they hung the public spaces with oversize works by such A-list artists as Andy Warhol, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Damien Hirst and Schnabel himself.

A Venetian glass chandelier, enormous hand-carved Italian fireplaces and bordello-red velvet curtains complete the exotic vibe, which carries over into the guestrooms.

On a recent visit, my King Loft room was a diminutive jewel with elegant but quirky furnishings, including an acid-green suede bench and a leather coffee table that resembled an Old World travel trunk.

The 1,417-square-foot penthouse suite goes one step further with a mahogany ceiling; an original fireplace designed by Beaux-Arts architect Stanford White; a kitchen and library; and antiques and photographs curated by Schnabel.

Dining is an interesting mixture of high-low Roman cuisine, like antipasti and spaghetti alla carbonara, at Maialino, overseen by chef Nick Anderer and restaurateur Danny Meyer, while all-day bar menus are available at the Rose Bar and Jade Bar.

For dining with a view, Gramercy Terrace serves breakfast, lunch and brunch and private events at night, but guests can pop in during the day to examine the changing display of 20th century art.

The 185-room property offers a final touch of luxury by allowing guests private access to Gramercy Park, a serene little gated park adjacent to the hotel that the concierge will open with a key.

Rooms start at about $575 per night. Visit www.gramercyparkhotel.com.  

The Strand

Another contender for hotel-cum-gallery is the 177-room Strand in Manhattan's fashion district, whose walls display oversize fashion cover shots from Vogue and Vanity Fair from the '40s on. The vintage works of famous photographers are on display everywhere, including shots by Clifford Collin, Richard Rutledge and John Rawlings. Because the works span decades, guests of various ages will find faces they recognize from Truman Capote to '60s fashion icon Twiggy.

Strand NYMy room, for example, boasted an elegant shot of movie star Loretta Young, competing for my attention with floor-to-ceiling windows that offered a dizzying view of the Empire State Building.

That same view is front and center at the Top of the Strand rooftop bar, created by Lydia Marks, who designed the sets for "Sex and the City" and "The Devil Wears Prada." Evenings at the bar feature DJs, specialty cocktails and light meals, and a retractable roof protects guests during inclement weather.

Fans of decorative arts can take in the giant triptych in the Strand American Bistro, created by San Francisco artist Rex Ray, who designed album covers for David Bowie, among others. Serving new American cuisine, the restaurant is headed up by executive chef Kelvin Fernandez, a runner-up on Food Network's "Chopped" and billed as the city's youngest executive chef at 36 years old.

The property, which opened in 2009, also makes the most of its location on West 37th Street off Fifth Avenue by hosting fashion week events and offering shopping discounts at Macy's for guests who want to feel part of the scene.

Rates range from $259 to $659 per night, with 20% discounts available on select advance bookings. Visit www.thestrandnyc.com.

Andaz 5th Avenue

Sculpture and industrial art meet at Andaz 5th Avenue, which mixes traditional and edgy design elements influenced by its midtown location in a renovated 1916 Rogers, Peet & Co. department store.

Andaz 5th Ave loungeThe 184-room property, the work of New York hotel designer Tony Chi, makes an impression before you even get into the lobby. The 18-foot entrance with engraved bronze panels evokes the plaques on the sidewalk in front of the hotel that lead to the New York Public Library across the street.

The real showpiece is the white, 8-foot-high marble and resin Nick Hornby sculpture in the lobby called "If I held you any closer, I would be on the other side," which, like a Rorschach test, is open to many interpretations.

Two 14-foot Carlos Capelan acrylic murals flank the bar, depicting the city's many moods, while a comfortable sitting area offers guests complimentary coffee and fruit in the mornings and wine in the early evening.

The hotel elevator features botanical designs in mirrored glass and murals created by students from New York's High School of Art & Design adorn the elevator banks on each guest floor.
There is even a secret passageway that leads from the lounge to Apt. 2E, a 6,400-square-foot event space with views of the city.

The suite I stayed in offered a separate living and bedroom, a kitchenette with a full-size refrigerator with complimentary water and soft drinks, soaring ceilings and an oversize private terrace big enough to host a small party.

For unfussy dining, the restaurant on the ground level serves farm-to-table fare, and the bar downstairs offers an open kitchen, small and medium plates, signature cocktails and a serious wine list. In keeping with the whimsical decor, the unmarked door to the bar is adorned only with the image of a rat — we thought the staff were joking when they told us to look for it — but once inside, the atmosphere is jumping and the food inventive and designed to share.

Rates begin at $425. See www.andaz5thavenue.com.

The James

SoHo is so synonymous with art that its reputation has moved firmly into the mainstream. Visitors too short on time to explore its many galleries can sample the works of local talent — some well-established and some up-and-coming — within the walls of the James, a newbuild on the corner of Grand and Thompson streets.

The ground-floor entry level is purposefully industrial with a dramatic wall hanging over the front desk and a huge installation called "QWERTY" by Sarah Frost composed of thousands of recycled keyboard keys.

A glass elevator leads to the Sky Lobby, where staff greet guests and where complimentary coffee and pastries are available in the morning and wine and cheese in the evening. The elevator features a custom vertical piece by Korean artist Sun K. Kwak, portions of which are visible on each floor, and the glass-walled lobby looks out onto a sculpture garden.

The art indoors is not confined to the lobby but rather inhabits each floor and even the stairwells in the 109-room property. Curator and artist Matthew Jensen carefully chose each piece, most of which are displayed in the corridors just outside of each bank of elevators.

Works range from oil paintings to photography, and the overarching theme is the natural world, according to Jensen, who is available to give private tours of the art by special arrangement.

The rooftop pool offers lounge chairs overlooking the city, while Jimmy, the enclosed rooftop bar, draws locals and guests alike, although just being a guest does not guarantee access to the bar. Be sure to arrange admittance in advance with the concierge. For dinner, try the homemade "pop tarts" from celebrity chef David Burke at the David Burke Kitchen restaurant.

Guestrooms feature a floor-to-ceiling glass wall separating the bathroom from the rest of the room, adorned with a remote-controlled screen designed by Dutch designer Nienke Sybrandy that represents a tree fashioned from computer code.

The hotel makes the most of its location with packages that bundle in early check-in and late checkout, hybrid car service around town and free WiFi.

Rates start at about $459. Visit www.jameshotels.com.
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