The Art of Selecting Art

When Heather O'Sullivan of Looney & Associates interior design group was looking for art for its client, the new Omni Orlando Resort at ChampionsGate, she contacted Atlanta-based Soho Myriad. One of the largest art consultant firms specializing in the hospitality industry, Soho works with thousands of artists from traditional oil painters to contemporary photographers to avant-garde abstractionists. Its client list, which includes Ritz-Carlton, Four Seasons, Starwood, Marriott and Mandarin, reads like a who's who of hoteliers.

“Heather brought us into the design process early on,” says Soho Art Consultant Tracy Chevalier, “so we were able to bring in some very dramatic pieces of art from every medium — and each one was customized specifically for the resort.”

The result is public spaces filled with 200 pieces of unique, bigger-than-life works, including large hand-blown glass pieces on pedestals, a massive hand-painted screen and oversized sculptures, photography and canvasses.

“Using a diverse collection of art gives the hotel more dimension, more interest,” says Chevalier. “And the big pieces work beautifully with the hotel's design. For guests walking from the lobby to a restaurant or to the ballroom that means finding a wonderful art surprise every time they turn a corner.”

While Soho makes it look easy, it's not. The process takes time, design and resources — and a budget to work within.

Typically, art consultant firms are retained by a design group. Once they see the overall design of the hotel, plus fabric samples and color palettes, the art firm will start with the guestrooms, which are almost always dressed with reproductions.

“We go back and research artists whose works will jell with the design and who'll let us reproduce their work,” says Chevalier. “We download images of their art from our database and email them directly to the designer.”

For the three pieces usually selected for each guest-room, Soho will give the designer about 100 choices. Once the artwork and frame are chosen for the room, the original is reproduced by making a giclée print, a French process that uses sophisticated inkjet-type printing that gives images all of the same hues and tonality as the original.

“Years ago, we'd use the original piece of art in the model room and then use lithographs for production, a four-color process that lays down one color at a time,” says Chevalier. “But technology has improved so much that we can use either a lithograph or a giclée print in the guest-rooms, and the giclée is a higher quality print on heavier watercolor paper which doesn't fade or yellow.”

The giclée process can be used on canvas as well, which gives the piece some texture, and creates what looks like an original piece of art.

After the guestrooms are completed, the art firm will move to the public spaces — which takes the most time — usually requiring several meetings with the design firm to nail down the options and be sure it's within budget. Accessories, such as tabletop ceramic bowls, glass vases, even books for the suites and public rooms, will be chosen as well.

Once the artists are commissioned and pieces completed, the firm will fly the designer in to collaborate on the framing. Today's trend in frames? Chocolate with silver, for a modern, sleek look.

OTHER INDUSTRY TRENDS

With a cleaner, starker interior design very “in” these days, hotels are moving toward a more contemporary or transitional style that's more handsome and less fussy.

And while hotels in the past have typically used poster-type art in their guestrooms and public spaces, the move is now toward using original pieces of art chosen and reproduced specifically for that particular hotel.

The style and medium selected are usually a collaboration between the design group and art firm and often reflect the location.

For the new downtown Omaha Hilton, Soho used only local artists. The Midwest city is home to a number of established artists, many part of the Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts, an in-residence program where artists are given studio spaces, living quarters and a stipend.

“We had a team fly into Omaha and tour some of the artists' studios,” says Chevalier. “Art is such an important part of Omaha that a representative from the city toured the facilities with us. We were blown away by what we saw. As a result, the hotel is filled with some spectacular pieces.”

Included are several by Japanese-born ceramist Jun Kaneko, whose works have been acquired by the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Detroit Institute of Art, the American Crafts Museum in New York and Nagoya, Japan.

The Hilton collection includes several of Kaneko's wall slabs, as well as modern dangos, which start as 1,000-ton pieces of clay before he crafts them into oversized egg-shaped glazed ceramics resembling a Japanese dumpling, a genre for which Kaneko has become world reknowned.

Because of the wide variety of artist styles and media produced in the area, the art consultants were able to fill the Hilton with a wonderfully eclectic yet local-flavored collection ranging from small hand-blown glass vases to an eight-foot-long abstract landscape.

“Often hoteliers aren't aware of what's available in their own hometown,” says Janie Stanfield, who founded Soho with partner Roger Caplan 13 years ago. “This is a good reason to bring in art consultants. Projects like this not only help pump money back into the artist community, they also serve as a great promotion for the hotel itself.”

FINDING AN ART CONSULTANT

There are no regulations, licensing or associations in the art consultation industry, so finding a reputable firm takes time and research. Stanfield suggests asking the right questions. What you want to know is how much experience they have, does their portfolio cover a wide range of projects or do they just one particular genre, like contemporary or Asian.

“You'll also want to ask for a list of clients to call for references,” says Stanfield. “Be sure to call them, too, and find out if the client was happy with the results and if the art project was completed on time and within budget.”

And it's important to know how they manage the process. Firms like Soho will have a large database of artists on which to draw, as well as enough of a staff to oversee the project.

Soho has its own giclée studio with three presses so it can create prints quickly and control the quality. It also has a framing shop staffed with 35 employees so design firms can come onsite and see exactly what they're going to get.

“Whether an individual is selecting one piece of art, or a hotel is looking for 200 pieces, the process and attention to detail need to be the same,” says Stanfield.

It's also essential that the consultant team is on property for the installation to make sure the art arrives undamaged and to help move pieces around a bit if necessary to achieve the maximum effect.

“At the end we like to give our clients a book that shows each piece of art and gives an artist statement about each work,” says Chevalier. “If guests inquire about a work, the hotel can give them the details. We probably get two or three calls a week from guests interested in acquiring a piece from an artist whose work they've seen in a hotel we've done.”

WHAT DOES IT COST?

Most art consultant fees are included in the price of the art — much like a real estate broker commission in the cost of a home — so there shouldn't be additional costs. The benefit of hiring someone with their own giclée presses and framing department is that all of those expenses are included in the price as well and not marked up. Dealing with a “one-stop-art-consulting-and-production-shop” such as Soho can also ensure a project is completed on time.

ESTABLISHING A BUDGET

Bringing an art consultant into the process early enough to help establish a budget can be an important benefit to the client as one of the art firm's biggest challenges can be the budget.

“Often hotels want to incorporate large pieces of original art into their design,” says Stanfield. “But without the benefit of an art consultant's expertise, they may not include enough money into their budgets. It's a disappointment to them when we have to tell them that a 6' by 7' oil painting is generally more than $4,000.”

When choosing an art consultant group, it's crucial to choose one that will have a team of employees working on a project. Every project should have a team leader but there should also be other consultants who are just as familiar with the job and are on call if needed.

It's also important to choose a firm that has a research team and a large database of artists from which to select.

When the airport-located Wyndham Miami wanted to put photographic images of old and new airplanes in its guestrooms, it became a challenge for Soho to find pictures of newer ones. Security concerns have made it more difficult to photograph aircraft. Using its resources, Soho contacted a local airport in Atlanta that agreed to provide a Lear jet and move it onto theq runaway so a photographer could create some custom photos for the hotel.

“Whether it's a small inn, a boutique-type hotel or a big resort and spa, art should enhance the space and reflect the design of the property,” says Chevalier. “And that's the fun part of the work we do. Helping to create the ‘wow’ factor.”

And to do that, more and more hotels are turning to art consultants to add that always appealing, often whimsical, dimension to their design.


Visit www.lhonline.com for more information and related articles.

HD Boutique Blossoms

Design professionals eager to soak up the latest hospitality design trends, along with some Miami sunshine, gathered in mid-September for the third annual HD Boutique expo and conference at the Miami Beach Convention Center.

Close to 3,000 attendees and exhibitors grooved to the high-touch, invigorating displays and vibrant, colorful atmosphere. Orange was the color of the moment — highly evident on everything from rich textiles and wall coverings to casegoods and light fixtures.

The mood was upbeat and energetic, thanks no doubt to the hospitality industry's current burst of development activity. Designers lauded the accessibility and manageability of the smaller-scale, more intimate venue, together with the variety of informative conference sessions.

One of the more popular sessions featured fashion and interior designer Todd Oldham. Oldham, who created interior designs for South Beach's Hotel, and who hosts his own television show on HGTV, discussed culture and creativity in a smart, breezy presentation, emphasizing the need to produce great design for the often neglected middle and budget segments of the hotel industry. “Our taste levels have risen so much,” he said. “Hotels never used to be nicer than one's home interior, but that has changed.” Asked about a dream challenge, Oldham said, “I'd love to create my own hotel for the financially challenged at about $89 a night,” noting the fun opportunity and material challenges it would present. “Why should that population segment be excluded when it comes to good hotel design?”

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