How hotel artwork is evolving through style and standards

A hotel’s artwork can make or break its theme or concept. With prototypes dictating significant portions of design, the art can be the element that best conveys a property’s sense of space and place. “Every brand is now on the same page—they want locally relevant art in the guestrooms,” said Jesse Kalisher, president & CEO of art curation and creation company Kalisher. “That said, each brand has their own artistic style, so while locally relevant, the actual art from brand to brand looks entirely different.”

“Brand standard is the base point, a guideline, but it does not limit the design,” Ilan Waisbrod, founder of design firm Studio Gaia, agreed, claiming that his studio takes a “holistic approach” to curating art. “We use art as part of the overall design concept or as part of the architectural space, whether it is to bring the local art or international art. However, we always approach local artist and artisans first.” 

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Certain types of hotels, seeking to convey a stronger sense of space, are particularly focused on using local artists, like Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide’s W brand, for which Studio Gaia has designed several properties. “Location is a fundamental factor [in our design for W Hotels], Waisbrod said. “A lot of hotels use art as the filler piece. We avoid this.” 

Kalisher also has a strong relationship with Starwood, and helped reinvent the art for the company’s Westin brand—the results of which, Jesse Kalisher said, are in the current brand standards. The partnership began seven years ago when Starwood management noted Kalisher’s black-and-white photography. “Since then, our artistic capabilities and creative partnership with Starwood have both matured together. As a result, we’ve been included in the brand standards for Element, Aloft and Westin.” 

How, then, does a designer balance eye-catching originality and broad appeal in terms of artwork? “Originality is important, but it’s not necessarily the main criteria,” Waisbrod said. “The artwork has to enhance the property and convey the design intent.” Kalisher agreed: “Originality and broad appeal can be on the same end of the spectrum. In fact, I’d argue that most things with broad appeal are original.” The opposite, of course, is not true, he added. “Most original work does not have broad appeal. Shakespeare, Picasso, the Beatles, Banksy—all original artists who, based on their originality, reached broad appeal.”