The art of hospitality: how artists are giving UAE hotel stays a cultural edge

Far from the minimalist designs that made up hotel lobbies in the past, fine art is becoming an essential part of the global hospitality experience. Sudeshna Ghosh explores the cultural and aesthetic value of hotel art in the UAE

The fluid, dynamic metal installation of camels sweeps by as you drive into the foyer of Jumeirah Al Naseem hotel. Past the revolving doors, a dramatic painting of Arabian horses greets you, while further inside, it’s a more informal style of pen and ink sketching of Bedouin desert tents and pearl divers’ dhows that make up the in-room wallpapers - providing a distinct sense of place inside the luxurious hotel.

This newly opened space has enlisted renowned Emirati artist Mattar Bin Lahej to create four specially commissioned artworks – including a sculpture incorporating a calligraphic representation of a poem by His Highness Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and ruler of Dubai – all of which form an intractable part of the property’s design scheme.

The Address Boulevard hotel also recreates the feeling of walking through a collector’s home, with over 250 artworks by leading international artists, a high percentage of which are especially commissioned for the hotel. In the UAE capital, the Four Seasons Abu Dhabi is home to over 2,000 pieces of art, many of which have, again, been exclusive commissions.

A common theme amongst all of these hotels is the effort to provide a sense of cultural connectivity – whether it’s with a sculptural cartographic landscape of Dubai behind the Address Boulevard’s reception desk, or the seven cast bronze sculptures representing the emirates in the Four Seasons Abu Dhabi’s lobby.

Taking things next level are the Rove Hotels, where art forms an intrinsic part of the brand DNA, with the entirety of the collection of contemporary mixed media being commissioned to local artists, in order to showcase a ‘different side of Dubai’.

The Rove Hotel also uses art to captivate its guests
The Rove Downtown aims to showcase a different side to Dubai, which it achieves with a cosmopolitan aesthetic

A far cry from the characterless canvases that made up cookie-cutter hotel designs in the past, art is becoming an increasingly important part of the hospitality experience globally, with travellers’ expectations shifting towards the experiential.

Dubai – with its recent focus on highlighting its heritage – is no exception.

According to Richard Alexander, General Manager of Jumeirah Al Naseem, “Art helps articulate the design intent of a hotel. Art is a great means of stimulating the senses which maps what travel and hospitality is all about.”

Anne-Cecile De Chaumont, Design Manager of Rove Hotels, expands on this saying, “A hotel’s design has to be efficient as well as emotional, and art plays an active role in creating an emotional connection. But art only works in a public space if it is a seamless part of a coherent whole; that is what makes the experience memorable.”

But does the process of creating bespoke art for a hotel restrict an artist’s creativity? Mattar Bin Lahej doesn’t seem to think so, having been given free rein to interpret Jumeirah Al Naseem’s space into his own vision. “My art is always pure. I work from a place of feeling, then I forget this is a commercial space,” he says. However, he does say that trust plays a big part in ensuring there is no creative tension between artist and hotel. Many artists also express the need to be bold in their creations, as such pieces are aimed at an audience who may not be proactively seeking art on their travels.

On the other hand, for most artists, this provides a platform for their work that enjoys a greater longevity and wider audience than any gallery could provide.  

Whether it is inspiring a harried business traveller to stop for a moment to consider our relationship with time, with Anna Master’s piece made up of suspended recycled watch parts (Address Boulevard); or compelling a millennial to take a selfie in front of the Rove Downtown’s quirky ‘cabinet of curiosities’ composed of found objects and pop art memorabilia - these initiatives are providing an immersive cultural experience, and an essential sense of context, to global travellers. And that can only be a good thing.