When New York’s 82 year-old Gramercy Park Hotel re-opened in 2006 following a $200 million makeover, renowned hotelier Ian Schrager insisted it wasn’t just another “art hotel”.
He was referring to the surge of hotel chains that had begun to adorn their walls with big-name art in an attempt to gain credibility.
Far be it for Schrager, famed for his too-cool-for-school establishments such as West Hollywood’s Mondrian and Miami’s Delano, to follow a trend. Ever ahead of the zeitgeist (he is, after all, the man who launched Studio 54), he snubbed the fad and went one better, enlisting artist and good friend Julian Schnabel to put his creative mind to the legendary space on Lexington Avenue.
In a sharp move away from the minimalism Schrager had made famous through his previous work with designer Philippe Starck, the Schnabel collaboration set an entirely new scene.
The 185-room hotel mimicked an artist’s studio: eclectic, neo-expressionist, haphazard to the untrained eye – a downtown bohemian playground. Here it started with the art: two Andy Warhols hung in the Rose Bar alongside a super-rare Jean-Michel Basquiat, on loan from one of New York’s art-world nobles, plus special commissions and works by the likes of Damien Hirst, Keith Haring and Richard Prince.
My first visit to GPH (as it is affectionately known to Manhattanites) was during the pinnacle of its celebrity, only weeks after opening. It was impossible not to be blown away by 20th century masterpieces hanging indifferently among precious antiques, not to mention being the first time I’d seen a Warhol in the flesh.
With just a week in town, I’d not only I saved myself hours at the MET but had my eyes opened to a whole new aesthetic.
This, of course, was Schrager ‘s vision –opening up art that had previously only been experienced by a select few to a broader, albeit hip, community. Mission achieved: let’s just say, poetically, I left my heart at the Gramercy Park.
Last week: three years on and I had a sense of deja vu when I received a room key enticing me to ‘live fearlessly’ at the opening of Melbourne’s newest hotel – The Cullen Hotel on Commercial Road, Prahran. The Art Series Hotel concept is the brainchild of Melbourne entrepreneur Will Deague. The eponymous hotel, named after bad boy and Archibald Prize winning artist Adam Cullen, is the first in a number of hotels set to open in Melbourne over the next 18 months. Next up in March, The Olsen (titled on art world darling John Olsen) followed by The Blackman on St Kilda road with three others in the pipeline.
To be fair, The Cullen is not the first art hotel in Australia. Tasmania’s richly-awarded Henry Jones Art Hotel sits on Hobart’s waterfront opened in 2004 and features over 250 original artworks by both established and emerging Tasmanian artists. A veritable gallery, there’s an installation room, school of art and most of the works displayed can be purchased through catalogue.
It would seem however the Aussie contingent – unlike Schrager– are happy to boast their connection to the to the cultural scene and label themselves as art hotels.
The Cullen actively encourages patronage by art aficionados through offering an in-house curator to guide guests the hotel’s exhibitions and Melbourne’s cutting-edge galleries indicating it’s not just about following a trend.
But does that mean these hotels will be any less inspiring or illusive?
It’s unlikely. After all, Adam Cullen - as much impresario as artist - is hardly main stream. Emerging in the 1990s as part of the grunge movement, he gained notoriety when he chained a rotting pig head to his leg and dragged it around for several weeks until the putrefied skull fell apart. He furthered his notoriety by illustrating a dark fairytale book for convicted criminal Mark “Chopper” Read. The traditional art world has labelled his work as crude, distasteful and grotesque. But come to think of it, I’ve heard similar things said of Studio 54. Perhaps in art, as in life, there are times when it can pay to live fearlessly?
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