One of the most compelling travel trends in recent years has been the emergence of art world luminaries who apply their imaginative sensibilities to hotel making. Take Banksy’s fantastical Walled Off in Palestine, French actor and theater owner Thierry Teyssier’s new nomadic concept 7,000 Heures, or Paris-based gallerist Franck Laigneau just-opened Dá Licenca in Portugal’s rural Alentejo region.
But perhaps the most promising proprietor of the unintentional hotelier is the art collector. In December, power couple Manuela and Iwan Wirth, co-founders of the Hauser & Wirth empire, will debut the Fife Arms, a former 19th-century Victorian coaching inn in the Scottish Highlands. The vision of interior designer Russell Sage, the communal spaces seamlessly integrate locally crafted tweed and tartan accents with site-specific works by artists such as Zhang Enli and Subodh Gupta. During the restoration by Moxon Architects of the listed building, artists were invited to the local town of Braemar to produce works for the property, including Scotsman Alec Finlay, whose verse is carved into some of the custom headboards in the 46 theatrical rooms. It’s not the Wirths’ first foray into hospitality: Four years ago they transformed an 100-acre farm estate in the British countryside into Hauser & Wirth Somerset, a vanguard multi-purpose arts center complete with restaurant, galleries, gardens designed by Piet Oudolf, and Durslade Farmhouse, a rentable six-bedroom residence featuring original works like Guillermo Kuitca’s dining room mural and Pipilotti Rist’s video installation in the sitting room.
One of the pioneers of this model was Hotel Castell, located in the tiny Swiss alpine village of Zuoz, which is overseen by the respected Swiss collectors Ruedi and Christine Bechler. Although the facade of the property appears to be traditional grand hotel architecture, the interiors resemble a cabinet of wonders, brimming with a remarkable collection of contemporary art. A James Turrell installation sits on a nearby hill and an Atelier van Lieshout sculpture is displayed in the garden. Every September the Bechlers host a weekend where influential experimental artists like Roman Signer put on a show—in this case, by blowing shit up with explosives.
Because they tend to have the taste and wealth to make daring design decisions, astute collectors aren’t limited by the traditional rules of hospitality. This fall the philanthropist, producer, and collector Maja Hoffmann, the force spearheading Luma Arles, a remarkable cultural complex in Arles opening in early 2020, debuted L’Arlatan, a historic property she asked the artist Jorge Pardo to completely reinvent. The result is a kaleidoscope of colors: handmade ceramic tiles in vibrant hues such as sunflower yellow, bright tangerine, and an arctic blue coalescing into abstract mosaics along the floors and walls; dozens of laser-cut plastic lanterns hanging from the ceiling, resembling bulbous sea creatures; and doors painted with images from Van Gogh’s more Japonisme-inflected works, as well as “random photos on my iPhone,” Pardo says.
Sometimes the art comes before the hotel. Marika Wachtmeister, whose family founded Wanås Konst, a Renaissance-style castle in southeastern Sweden, started inviting artists in the late 80s to create large-scale installations for the grounds and surrounding forest. Today it has evolved into a world-class sculpture park run by a not-for-profit foundation with more than 80 original pieces from Marina Abramovic, Robert Wilson, Jenny Holzer, and other heavyweights hidden among the trees. Last year, the family transformed two 18th-century barns into a stylish 11-room hotel and restaurant, allowing guests to wander the estate for a few days, trying to make out the contemporary art from the nature, while tucking in to seasonal meals made with ingredients sourced from the onsite organic farm. As is true with the Wachtmeisters’ collection, Wanås is full of eclectic surprises; having the opportunity to live briefly in the world of an exceptional collector brings true meaning to the term curated experience.