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The Art of Hotel Culture: New Exhibit at the Vancouver Art Gallery

Installation view of Grand Hotel: Redesigning Modern Life, entrance to exhibition in Gallery rotunda. Photo: Rachel Topham, Vancouver Art Gallery

Installation view of Grand Hotel: Redesigning Modern Life, entrance to exhibition in Gallery rotunda. Photo: Rachel Topham, Vancouver Art Gallery

Not merely places to rest a travel-weary head, hotels are rabbit holes filled with unknown potential and curiosities leading to wondrous experiences. They are interactive storybooks with a revolving cast of characters exchanging words and intimacies – it’s only natural that housing strangers together under one roof would be a seductive catalyst for communication and connection.

Sofia Coppola portrayed this phenomenon through an unlikely friendship fostered in a Tokyo hotel in Lost in Translation, and the film 28 Hotel Rooms follows a passionate indiscretion between two strangers within the confines of several suites. But the first narration outlining intersecting lives within a hotel, and the namesake of a new exhibition, was Grand Hotel, released in 1932.

Grand Hotel: Redesigning Modern Life, at Vancouver Art Gallery from April 13 to September 15, 2013, pays homage to that legendary emblem of society. Six years in the making, the concept was conceived by curator Jennifer M. Volland, whose love of hotels compelled her to make them a topic of study in her Architectural Theory program at UCLA. She partnered with the Vancouver Art Gallery’s Senior Curator Bruce Grenville and Assistant Curator Stephanie Rubick to create a blog, publication, and exhibition, each format complimentary of the other, exploring four themes – travel, design, social, and culture – intrinsically linked to the development of the hotel as icon.

When it came to the selection of the pieces, it was important to Volland to “pick out exemplary moments in hotel history” in the hopes the exhibition will “provide a comprehensive picture of the significance of the hotel in modern life.” Displayed on two sprawling floors, the exposition begins by explaining the “why” of travel. Walls depict stories of the Hilton Hotel chain’s efforts to defeat the communists and the rise of kitschy motels across Route 66 and majestic resorts on the Canadian Pacific Railway line.

Bruce Price, Banff Springs Hotel, 1888 Photo by Canada, Dept. of Interior / Library and Archives Canada, c.1909 / PA-040647

Bruce Price, Banff Springs Hotel, 1888 Photo by Canada, Dept. of Interior / Library and Archives Canada, c.1909 / PA-040647

To highlight the incredible architectural significance of hotels, such as Frank Lloyd Wright’s grand Imperial Hotel in Tokyo, local designers at Goodweather Studio created imaginative models of ten notable structures. Lean in close to peer at the intricacies, including a behind-the-scenes glimpse inside New York’s Waldorf Astoria (one of Volland’s favourite moments of awe during the creation of the project) and a replica of the Istanbul Hilton perched upon an exotically woven carpet.

Installation view of Grand Hotel: Redesigning Modern Life, featuring New York’s Waldorf Hotel in foreground. Photo: Rachel Topham, Vancouver Art Gallery

Installation view of Grand Hotel: Redesigning Modern Life, featuring New York’s Waldorf Hotel in foreground. Photo: Rachel Topham, Vancouver Art Gallery

The social aspect of the exhibit looks at such topics as segregation, politics, and front and back of house – from Katharine Hepburn being asked to stop wearing pants at Claridge’s to a time lapse video of Fairmont Hotel Vancouver’s historic lobby.

Enrich your cultural appetite with whimsical stories about the Algonquin Round Table, Andy Warhol’s Chelsea Girls, and Chateau Marmont’s Hollywood. Creatives have long drawn from inspiration held in the walls of hotels resulting in films, music, literature, and ideas, such as The Eagles’ Hotel California and William Burroughs’ Naked Lunch.

Peter Simon, Harry Smith in front of the Chelsea Hotel, New York, 1973. © Peter Angelo Simon

Peter Simon, Harry Smith in front of the Chelsea Hotel, New York, 1973. © Peter Angelo Simon

Making the exhibition even more appealing is the pop-up Atelier Ace gift shop curated by Ace Hotels. Signature pieces were designed exclusively for the exhibition such as ACE-bearing Ebbets baseball caps and Ts and totes bearing Vancouver’s motto: By sea, land and air we prosper,” and the takeaway line from the original Grand Hotel: “People come and go and nothing ever happens.”

Photo Courtesy of Atelier Ace

Photo Courtesy of Atelier Ace

Photo Courtesy of Atelier Ace

Photo Courtesy of Atelier Ace

While there are no plans yet to present the exhibition elsewhere, Grand Hotel is relevant to anyone with a hotel story, and is sure to inspire a post-gallery conversation with a traveler at a nearby hotel bar.

 

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