How art curators help boutique hotels stand out

Stan Alcorn Apr 3, 2015

How art curators help boutique hotels stand out

Stan Alcorn Apr 3, 2015

It’s hard to stand out as a high-end boutique hotel. One way to do it: Art.

The lobby of the Archer Hotel has a kaleidoscope of colored frames billed as a “diaphanous abstraction” by Artie Vierkant. Its “Bugatti Bar” has vintage posters of the French sports car. Artisanal quilts hang above tables of its David Burke-run fabrick restaurant.

“They’re made with chocolate wrappers and tea bags and coffee filters,” says Debbie Davis, an art advisor who held a position you don’t often associate with hotels: Curator.

Davis normally helps rich people and corporations pick art for their homes and office. Hotels have many more rooms to fill, and relatively tight budgets.

“I was a little nervous about running those numbers,” says Davis. “I kept checking and checking. I don’t usually have these production spreadsheets for a piece of art.”

Filling the Archer Hotel’s 180 guest rooms with original works wasn’t feasible.

“We were going to license artists and make high quality reproductions of their works,” says Davis. “But I didn’t really know how we were going to do it.”

She did it by contacting Kalisher, a North Carolina-based company that provides art for hotels.

“I think people are most surprised to learn that we exist,” says founder Jesse Kalisher. “That making art for hotels is a way to make a living.”

The company started with a goal of providing hotels with the black and white photography of Jesse Kalisher. But Kalisher says that is now a small fraction of its work creating, curating, printing and framing art for hotels around the world.

The price for those artworks can range, according to Kalisher, from $30 at a Motel 6, to a couple hundred dollars for a luxury hotel.

“Bear in mind that art is the least expensive item in a hotel, and the easiest thing to change to update the image,” Kalisher says.

In the Archer Hotel guest rooms you can see these relatively inexpensive copies of, for example, a customized etching of a typewriter by Brooklyn artist Sam Messer. And if you stroll down to the lobby, you can compare them to the original, off-the-etching plate version.

“Doesn’t look that much better, right?” says Debbie Davis as we look at it.

While the edges looked different, the image itself, to my untrained eye, looks identical.

“Right, that’s the high quality printing,” she says.

Typically, these kind of copies are licensed for just five to seven years, Kalisher says, after which point the art has to be replaced. But the Archer Hotel purchased rights in perpetuity — for a gallery look at more of a dorm room price.

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