The Genteel
January 28, 2021


42" x 138" mixed media on paper. Mass Ave Study by Joel Babb (Image courtesy of Charles Hotel).

Gary Johnson, architect of the Liberty Hotel and several other hotels in Boston, considers hotel lobbies to be the living rooms of the world.  Hotel owners strive to make guests comfortable by surrounding them with beautiful objects d'art. These hotels are harbingers of museum quality art that the public can peruse any time of day, the collections are permanent and the selection is vast - from historic to modernistic to contemporary. And, unlike museums, there's no admission charge. 

Carl Pallozo - his interpretation of John
Singer Sargent's piece The Daughters
of Edward Darley Boit

(Image courtesy of Royal Sonesta Hotel).

Frank Nicholson, interior designer for the Mandarin Oriental, hand-picked a cadre of established artists to create the hotel's fifty works of art; leading them are David Hockney, Ben Owen, Judith A. Brust and Frank Stella.

Edwina Kluender, Director of Public Relations says, "Being that this is a Mandarin Oriental property, Mr. Nicholson made sure to put an oriental brush stroke into the interior with lacquered tables and mother of pearl lamps. Art plays a very important role in all the Mandarin Oriental hotels.  We feel that art adds strength." 

Entering the lobby, you can't miss David Mann's The Given, a mixed media piece bursting with red and orange tones, hanging over the marble fireplace.  Behind the reception desk is Life Line No. 3, a monotype layered painting by Nantucket artist Judith A. Brust. Although you will want to linger in front of it, there's more art to enjoy on the opposite walls - Brust's Reef No.1 and The Deux, a hand-coloured lithograph by British pop artist David Hockney. Don't miss the impressive pottery displays in the lobby by Ben Owen, whose works can be seen at the Museum of Fine Arts, and Vermont potter Miranda Thomas, a teacher of master classes in pottery at Harvard University.

Walking up the grand staircase, you are treated to a half-dozen wood engravings, Shadowgraph Images, by Terry Winters. On the arcade level are two more works by Brust, Beginnings No. 1 and Mind’s Eye No. 1, both are multi-layered paintings on canvas.  There's also Robert Siegelman's series of three woodcuts on washi paper and Valdes Perfill V, an etching on coloured silkscreen by Manolo Valdes. 

The collection started in 1963 with Roger and Joan Sonnabend and, to date, there are seven thousand pieces of art in their thirty-one hotels.

Terry Rose's multi-media triptych Beyond Beyond in the hotel's elegant Asana restaurant is a feast for the eyes and senses. The placement on a Jerusalem limestone wall of Donald Sultan's silkscreen ink Blues and Blacks gives the piece a 3-dimensional casual look. On another wall, the structured v-shape of Alice Ballard's Pod Diagonal Column, a series of fourteen earthenware and terra sigillata glazed forms, balances the room. 

A few years ago, the Charles Street Jail was a crumbling wreck, derelict for more than twenty years.  Built in 1851, the building recently underwent a facelift and emerged as the luxurious Liberty Hotel. Its lead architect, Gary Johnson, succeeded in creating a comfortable living room filled with contemporary art by a plethora of local artists.  

Merely walking in to Liberty Hotel elicits a "wow" response, and even more so by Rhode Island artist Coral Bourgeois's nineteen foot tall mural reaching from street level up to the lobby.  Taking her cue from the fact that the building was a jail, Bourgeois used the theme of strife and rejection in the piece.  Using two-foot tiles, she drew and imprinted images of handcuffs, barred windows, chain link fences, footprints and prisoners in dark 1930's prison garb.  The reds, oranges and greens are so vibrant they seem to jump out of the mural.

Most of the fourteen pieces of art at the Charles Hotel were commissioned specifically for the hotel when it opened in 1984. They were created by artists who either went to school in New England or live here now.  Manager Yianni Korkovelos sums up the collection this way: "The art pieces are not grouped in one area of the hotel, they are sprinkled around separately so that it does not feel like a museum.  People can enjoy the art without being overwhelmed by it."

Andy Warhol - Campbell's Soup Dress
(Image courtesy of Royal Sonesta Hotel).

There are works in oils, mixed media and photography by artists such as Carolyn Cole, Neil Welliver, Pat Steir, Francine Zaslow and Emily Eveleth Young. Of striking difference are the nine handmade American quilts hanging in the second floor stairwell.  Looking at them you get an aura of beauty, strength and softness.  The quilts date from 1890 to 1910 and the artists are unknown, lending to a bit of mystery to each piece. You can't help but wonder what the artists were thinking as they sewed.  The quilts are designed in geometric block patterns with names such as Irish Chain, Drunkard's Path and Swallows In Flight.

By the front door is a 42" x 138" mixed media on paper Mass Ave Study by Joel Babb in which he gives his impression of how Harvard Square looked in the 1970's.   Babb, a Maine artist, is known for his panoramic cityscapes done in his signature style of quilt block cubism. The oil painting of the Longfellow House to the left of the reception area was done by Boston artist George Nick. 

The Royal Sonesta Hotel is home to seven hundred pieces of contemporary art created by New England artists.  According to Stephanie Sonnabend, the third generation of Sonnabends to oversee the company, "The art provides a welcoming and visually exciting environment for our guests.  It is wonderful to see how pieces of art can define spaces and create warmth and energy."  The collection started in 1963 with Roger and Joan Sonnabend and, to date, there are seven thousand pieces of art in their thirty-one hotels.

The Sonesta exudes the feel of a big city hotel - chic and elegant. The lobby and rooms are decorated in understated art deco furnishings surrounded by the collection of contemporary art the Sonnabends have amassed. 

Your tour begins outside; on the lawn is an aluminum mesh sculpture by decorative artist Dennis Croteau.  Directly opposite the front door is Frank Stella's Talladega #3 representing the artist's view, in green and gold cars and mazes, of the Talladega Nascar racetrack.  Then crane your neck towards the ceiling; dangling there is Jonathan Borofsky's "Every Man With Briefcase #2816955", a six foot tall sculpture of a man wearing a topcoat and carrying a briefcase.   

George Lanzillo, the unofficial curator of the art, explains, "When we place art in the public areas or a guest room its minimalist, there are no identifying plaques which makes the art more personal.  The viewer draws from their own observation about the piece". 

Needless to say, with one hundred pieces of art in public view, it is a lot to take in. Start in the west tower and Andy Warhol's Flowers, seven panels of multi-coloured flowers on silkscreen, then move on to a geometric painting by Josef Albers, then to Richard Serra's two-dimensional black and white abstract of a steel sculpture entitled To Bobby Sands partnered with it is another black and white abstract piece by Sam Francis, up a corridor one wall is given over to Buckminster Fuller's Twelve Around One twenty six silk screened images of blueprints from one of Fuller's engineering designs.  After that, take a break then go onto the next thirty-seven works.

The east tower holds a total of sixty one works, some highlights are Carl Palazzo's rendition of John Singer Sargent's painting The Daughters Of Edwin Darley Boit, lithographs by Claes Oldenburg, etchings by Sol LeWit, a multi-media scene by Stephen Mueller, and a large abstract steel sculpture by Sir Anthony Caro.

The next time you find yourself in a hotel lobby take a cue from architect Gary Johnson, peruse the art, either from a tour or a comfortable armchair.  You'll appreciate what you see.

Mandarin Oriental Boston, 776 Boylston Street, Boston MA 02199

Liberty Hotel, 215 Charles Street, Boston MA 02114

Charles Hotel, One Bennett Street, Cambridge, MA 02138

Royal Sonesta Hotel, 40 Edwin Land Boulevard, Cambridge MA 02142



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