I often tell people that I was an art major who turned into a writer. One of my first college jobs was as a studio assistant to contemporary artists (some, now famous) in Los Angeles.
Much later, as a travel writer over the past few decades, I collected and bought and sold art and antiques discovered on my sojourns. (Midcentury furniture salesman’s samples discovered in Brazil or a huge mestizo religious painting brought back from a trip to Buenos Aires, anyone?) More recently, I’ve been working as a fine art and antiques broker, assisting clients around the globe who want to sell their treasures via international auction houses from London and Hong Kong to L.A. and New York. As a result, I have always favored cultural travel, including destinations close to home that engage the artistic senses and provoke both contemplation and conversation.
Here are a few hotels that might be of interest to those of a similar mind.
It may be a European tradition: fill a hotel with fine art from guests who are artists, often in residence, or display important pieces from a savvy (and rich) owner’s private collection. At Amsterdam’s charming Hotel Pulitzer, set in 25 row houses (pulitzeramsterdam.com), the terrific rotating art on display is sourced from the Pulitzer family art collection (yes, the Pulitzer Prize dynasty). Perhaps the first time I became aware of incredible art in public places was in the 1980s, first on a summer holiday to the south of France, then during a New York snowstorm and on a later trip to Holland, where I discovered the Pulitzer collection.
At La Colombe d’Or (colombedor.com) in St. Paul de Vence in the south of France, I marveled at not only the cuisine and setting, but also the art and stories behind the works hanging on the walls of this famous restaurant and pensione, where Picasso, Matisse, Calder, Braque and others would dine and leave works that still grace the walls. Ah, if those walls could talk!
Here in sunny Southern California, you can power dine at The Belvedere in the tony Peninsula Beverly Hills (beverlyhills.peninsula.com) amidst blue-chip artworks. The multimillion-dollar works include a stunning Sean Scully and a bright, at times controversial, Robert Indiana painting, which apparently some guests have objected to (the words “DIE” and “Paris” appear in the work — Indiana, who was living in Paris in the mid-’60s, created it in response to the assassination of John F. Kennedy). There are no titles or labels on any of the pieces, so guests who don’t know their Josef Albers Homage to the Square from Yayoi Kusama’s trademark polka dots may just have a pure art experience, devoid of name-dropping.
A lovely black-and-gold calligraphic nine-panel work, Linescape I and Linescape II (2015), was commissioned specifically for the room from Parisian artist Fabienne Verdier — despite the artist’s initial reservations. At first, she rebuked the commission, saying she “doesn’t do hotel art” — until she learned of the caliber of artworks her piece would hang alongside. Bold poppies by Donald Sultan from 2014 hang in one of two private dining rooms. Those celebrating an anniversary might request a table within view of a large figurative work by Alex Katz: Anniversary (2003).
Julian Schnabels and Ruth Asawas of the future may be discovered at the Mayfair Hotel (mayfairla.com), a 1926 downtown L.A. venue with a storied history. The 15-story hotel was the site of the first afterparty for the Academy Awards in 1929, and L.A. noir writer Raymond Chandler set his 1939 short story, “I’ll Be Waiting,” at the hotel where he and his mistress resided.
But something new and radical is afoot that may surprise you. The hotel, undergoing a $40 million restoration, is featuring art by resident curator and artist Kelly Graval (a.k.a. RISK), who went from being a graffiti street artist and graduate of the USC Roski School of Art and Design to museum shows. RISK is bringing outdoor art indoors and has reached out to other graffiti artists — Evidence and Jason Revok — whose work will be part of the hotel’s collection. “Graffiti writers have always managed to leave their mark, literally, on the urban landscape in Los Angeles,” Kelly says in a statement. “The pieces I’ve selected for this project symbolize each artist’s cultural imprint on our society.”
Rooms and hallways are decorated in black, white and gray color schemes, and there are two versions of the former, including one with a blow-up mural backdrop of a 1926 map of L.A. that features all sorts of fun details from yesteryear. Public rooms will include a grand lobby, the Speakeasy restaurant, a rooftop pool and even a podcast studio.
Ironically, I did see some graffiti in the ’hood just west of downtown, officially called Central City West. Future collectors, take note: you never know who’s expressing themselves right before your very eyes — inside or out. I’m excited to return and see how the art plays out throughout the historic Mayfair. See you there for a martini in the Speakeasy and some art talk? Be forewarned: you’ve gotta know the passcode.
The Inn at the Presidio (innatthepresidio.com) is my favorite hotel in San Francisco for several reasons. The moment you enter the grounds — through one of the national park’s gated entrances — the lovely natural setting, flush with hiking trails, museums, earth art and restaurants, provides a welcome oasis in the bustling city, with plenty of its own temptations.
The inn’s 22 spacious rooms and suites are located in Pershing Hall, the historic three-story building that once served as the bachelor officers’ barracks in the repurposed military complex. They include lovely high-ceilinged bathrooms, flick-on fireplaces and comfy beds. The helpful staff and art curated by Julie Coyle add to the charming ambience.
But it’s what’s outside — the phenomenal nature works by internationally acclaimed sculptor Andy Goldsworthy — that really sets this inn apart from its competitors. Right out the inn’s back door is the Ecology Trail, a scenic, easy hike that leads to Inspiration Point and one of Goldsworthy’s noteworthy installations, Spire, a soaring, 90-foot-high cathedral-like tower built of recycled eucalyptus trees; I consider it California’s version of Sagrada Familia, Antoni Gaudí’s spectacular church in Barcelona. Goldsworthy’s other earthworks span the globe, but there are four of them tucked in the 1,480 acres that constitute the Presidio of San Francisco. Yup, you heard me right. In addition to Spire, there’s Wood Line, Tree Fall and Earth Wall.
In addition to the outdoor art amidst great hiking trails, there are plenty of other attractions and diversions within The Presidio, including the Disney Museum, a bowling alley and even a YMCA. Ocean cliffs, lakes and miles of trails add to the natural ambience, not to mention all the action that lies just outside the former military base gates in the big city.
I can’t wait to return to this gem of a destination and see the Goldsworthy works I missed on my first visit, as well as the ones I viewed a couple of years ago. Those, like nature and my perceptions of art, will have changed. The disintegration reminds one not only of the beauty of Mother Earth, but the transitory nature of life.