Not so long ago, the mere mention of ‘hotel art’ would send a shiver down many a spine, bringing up associations with the blandest of the bland art, erected merely to fill gaps and blend seamlessly with the wallpaper choice du jour.
Thankfully, that association is dying out with the realisation that a thoughtfully-curated art collection can be big, tangible business for hoteliers. Globalised consumers increasingly demand more individualised experiences and art very much has a role to play in answering that demand, as well as in expressing a hotel’s brand values, ethos, sense of place and taste.
Well-sourced collections can mean serious public engagement, with one art trend in particular on a meteoric rise right now.
Extra-large abstract paintings, the dominant trend for so long, are giving way to ‘salon hangs’, now turning up in a diverse range of establishments, from cosmopolitan city hotspots to rural retreats and small boutique hotels.
The great thing about the salon hang is that it has the potential to offer something very different for each hotel, from the traditional to the thoroughly contemporary.
Additionally, unlike many interiors trends, art trends move much more slowly. This will be a medium-long term bet and not subject to the same blink-of-the-eye peaks and troughs in taste as other interiors trends. It’s going to stay around. In our view, it’s an idea hoteliers can bank on.
Let’s deal with the basics first. Exactly what is a salon hang? It’s a contemporary trend with significant historical cachet, taking its name from 18th century European ‘Salons’, the equivalent of today’s art schools and blue chip galleries, epitomised by Johan Zoffany’s 1770s painting, The Tribuna of the Uffizi. A salon hang is the practice of placing several pictures alongside and above one another (either randomly or in a geometric pattern) and its modern iteration began in the most fashionable haunts.
One example is the stylish Great Northern Hotel in London’s King’s Cross, where a wall of art tells a story about the hotel’s history as a gateway to Britain and the Continent. Retro foreign movie posters cluster round the stairway, whilst in the Snug Bar, no surface is left bare on the smoky-blue walls, which are eclectically covered in framed oil paintings, suggesting a haul gathered one item at a time on far-flung travels, from small abstract canvases and portraits to maritime scenes and still life paintings.
Another case is the much-lauded west end venue sketch, which doubles as a novel exhibition space for a whopping 239 drawings by British artist David Shrigley. Wrapping around three of the restaurant’s rose-pink walls, Shrigley’s monochrome musings hang in a systematic grid and form part of what the establishment describes as a ‘long term programme of artist-conceived restaurants’.
Salon hangs offer hoteliers and restaurant operators an array of benefits. One of these is that relatively inexpensive art, when grouped en masse, can create a bespoke and high-visual impact, as the viewer’s eye tends to focus on the whole rather than the individual.
Salon hangs can also fill a vast space where a single painting would be lost and can maximise the walls of a bijou room. From charity shop finds to budget-friendly prints, when dramatically gathered together, the overall value of the art can be transformed into more than the sum of its parts.
Salon hangs also provide an opportunity for cohesive story telling. This can take the form of a literal narrative, drawing on the room’s interior for inspiration, to a more abstract engagement with culture.
For example, a hotel in Scotland’s wild glens would benefit from a salon hang boasting rich landscape oil paintings, hunting pictures and traditional portraits, while a Parisian establishment might look to glamorous black-and-white fashion photography. Art consultants can also work very closely with interior designers to pull on unusual colours or story threads that can really make a room sing.
For a hotel brand looking to make meaningful ties with its locality, hoteliers can engage with local cultural institutions, working with regional art schools for example, or galleries and museums. Ideas here might include a wall curated with paintings produced by a single artist, or else a showcase of the latest burgeoning talent from art students or a collection that links with a local museum exhibition.
This sort of narrative offers serious public engagement and provides a talking point and press opportunities, as well as creating a pleasing historical resonance, given that ‘Salons’ were the first examples of art exhibitions being made open to the public.
In addition to all the benefits for a hotel or hospitality venue’s public spaces, salon hangs can also be used in guest rooms, as many hotels deliberately seek to move away from generic decoration, realising that guests are increasingly seeking a more thoughtful, ‘home from home’ service from their patrons.
Rather than the long over-used approach of hanging a single large and bland piece of art above a guest room headboard, hoteliers can create a totally unique look at a comparatively modest cost. This way the salon hang can become a focal point and completely individualise a room. There could be different pieces in each room, or the hotel could commission originals to be hung in suites and have these reproduced as prints to hang in standard rooms; the permutations are endless.
What’s really great about salon hangs is that even without a collection relaying a specific narrative, forming an ad-hoc assemblage of varying monetary value, theme and palette, the hotel nevertheless is seen to boast an aesthetic that appears, above all, considered and contemporary.
Salon hangs also allow hoteliers to add to a collection over time, allowing public areas to be continually-transforming spaces rather than static interiors in need of periodic, cost-prohibitive refurbishments. Hanging art in the salon style is dynamic and dramatic and offers hotels the benefit of creating unique, flexible spaces that hook the imagination and leave behind a truly memorable impression. What more could anyone ask for?