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Service Art: The encounter between hotel and art

While it’s not uncommon for hotels to try and brand themselves by way of artwork hung on lobby and bedroom walls, few hotels have managed to create a genuinely authentic connection between the artistic creation and interior space. In this article, Iris Barak, curator of the Dubi Shiff collection and artworks for NYX hotels, speaks about the connection between art and hospitality.

One of the first exhibitions that forged the relationship between curator Iris Barak and the Fattal hotel chain was an exhibition of 300 selected works from the Dubi Shiff collection at the Leonardo Art hotel, Tel Aviv. The permanent exhibition, curated by Barak, displays works from the figurative-realist genre, and is updated each year with new works, acquired and organized by Barak.

“The collection has become extremely dynamic in recent years. The figurative scene is growing all the time, leading me to new artists from both Israel and abroad, and
I continue accompanying active artists with ongoing studio visits.” Familiarity with local artists combined with her desire to create a meeting place between artists and the hotel audience, has inspired Barak to think about new kinds of exhibition spaces and to explore the benefits of staging art exhibitions in spaces that go beyond the museum or conventional gallery setting.

In the main, hotels tend to acquire art that is aesthetic yet as neutral as possible, in order to appeal to the broadest tastes of its clientele. This explains why only a handful of hotels succeed in creating an authentic connection between art and the hotel; for the vast majority of hotels art functions as décor. By contrast, in an Art Hotel, the art collection is guided by the artistic concept of the hotel and the artistic agenda it wishes to express. Only later comes the decision about which specific artworks to exhibit and where they should be located throughout the hotel.

Since the exhibition is spread out around the hotel, the challenge for the curator is “matching” the various artworks to the different spaces while preserving the uniqueness of each creation and maintaining the relevance of its specific artistic genre. Last March, with the opening of the NYX Hotel Tel Aviv, it was only natural to connect the new hotel with the Dubi Shiff collection. “When NYX Tel Aviv opened I chose to exhibit works from the Shiff collection that express in different ways a kind of defiance against the frames surrounding us, that straddles the aesthetic and the deviant,” explains Barak.
“Some of the works, such as the chairs of Vadim Stepanov Guerrero that stirred up a lot of critical reaction, among others, made me realize just how much power there is in art.”

Chairs of Vadim Stepanov Guerrero in the NYX Tel Aviv entrance
Fantastic creatures, genitalia and orthodox symbolsFantastic creatures, genitalia and orthodox symbols

Fantastic creatures, genitalia and orthodox symbols. Vadim Stepanov, mixed media on wood, 1995. Dubi Shiff Collection.

Woman acrylic painting

Igor Skltzki, acrylic on canvas, 2013. Dubi Shiff Collection

How do you see the role of a work of art?
“Art should provoke interest; the issue of beauty and provocation in art is broad and there is of course, no single “right” answer. Nevertheless, I see the essence of art in terms of the discussion that trails it and the power inherent in it; in its ability to pull the viewer out of his apathy and prevent him from walking past without devoting the attention it deserves.”

Painting of naked man
Neta Harari-Navon, oil on wood, 1997. Dubi Shiff Collection

Mixed media art piece by Dome

Dome, Mixed Media, 2013. Dubi Shiff Collection.

In a similar way to what you’ve done at Leonardo Art Tel Aviv, your role as curator at NYX seems involve creating an encounter in which hotel guests and visitors meet unique art head on. Some people may define the various works on show as stretching or even transgressing the boundaries of the figurative-realist genre. What are the virtues of this kind of encounter between the touristic experience that the hotel provides and the artworks?

“All over the world you can find a strong connection between the art world and the hotel industry. Many tourists are not only looking to get to know the beaches and nightlife, they also want the hotel where they are staying to help them become immersed in the local scene.”

“The idea behind the artistic side at NYX is to collaborate with local artists in each city where our hotels are located, with an emphasis on ‘site specific’ artworks that are the product of a dialogue between the artists and myself, as well as a partnership with local curators, to ensure we acquire art that’s as relevant as possible to the local scene, in every place.

“NYX is unique in this respect, in that each hotel actually turns into a work of art in its own right, due to the fact that most of the art on show is created directly on the walls of the hotel, with a special emphasis on street artists who are actively producing Graffiti, Murals or street intervention. In this way, we enhance the sense of the urban, which is an inextricable aspect of the NYX hotel concept. Thanks to the game of ‘inside and outside’ that the hotel’s art allows, I place a lot of emphasis on architecture and space in the structure itself, often touring the hotel with artists to discover together how and where to integrate their art within the spaces of the hotel, and in such a way that does not detract from the raw power of its street art”.
Photography of Iris Barak

Iris Barak. Phot: Yarden Rokach.

Another important feature of the Fattal hotels is the “Israeli Art wall”, a recurring theme in all Fattal hotels worldwide, promoting artwork of local Israeli artists. “The idea of Israeli Art Wall is to create a meeting point between local audience in each country and Israel, through the prism of art rather than through the media or political issues,” says Barak.

“The concept of art in hotels transforms every NYX hotels anywhere in the world into a relevant part of the local art scene, while enabling the existence of an alternative art space with changing exhibitions which exposes visitors to a very different artistic texture. For me, it’s a tremendous privilege to be able to expose hotel guests – whether locally or abroad – to some of the most exciting contemporary artworks, especially to guests who wouldn’t naturally consider themselves as consumers of art.”

Iris Barak is the curator of the Dubi Shiff Collection and curator of the NYX Hotels by Fattal. Iris was born and lives in Tel Aviv, holds a BA from Tel Aviv University as part of Arts and Humanities honors program and in Museology studies, and is currently finishing her MA at Tel Aviv University as part of the interdisciplinary arts program.