As someone with a passion for hotels in all their myriad guises, preferably with a little dollop of luxury, this Wanted column by Elana Brundyn struck a chord with me.
“The hospitality industry,” she writes, “is missing a valuable opportunity to offer guests memorable and meaningful experiences through the transformational potential of art and culture.”
She’s not wrong and too often, as she laments, rooms and public areas come filled with the anodyne, anonymous reprints that look like they come out of a pre-ordained décor playbook. Quite often they really have, as international hotel brands sacrifice local colour and character on the altar of predictability and brand recognition.
Infusing a deep sense of the place — the terroir of the hotel, if you will — into the stay makes for a transformed experience. Give me coffee from a local roaster at breakfast, a signature pour at the cocktail bar and, as Brundyn argues, some home-grown creativity on the walls.
As Brundyn notes, a fine example is voco The Bank Johannesburg. It’s in the heart of Rosebank, home to some of Johannesburg’s most lauded galleries, and from the moment you step into the lobby, you get a sense that this is no cookie-cutter experience. Kudos to IHG, a behemoth of a global brand, for the bravery to cover the walls with more than 750 artworks by 42 local artists.
If you’re dropping in for cocktails at Proud Mary you’ll spot a few public pieces, but overnight guests can also sign up for a brief (but worthwhile) art walkabout conducted by one of the hotel’s trained Art Butlers.
“We have our favourite artworks, but the best part is discussing the art with the guests, to find out what they like and why they like it,” says Abigail Malatji, one of the Art Butlers whose day job is as a housekeeping supervisor.
As hotel staff, not art curators, Abigail and her colleagues bring a wonderfully down-to-earth approach to the hotel’s collection. They (probably) won’t delve into the intersectionality of media or concepts of cultural hegemony, but they will encourage you to stop and look a little more closely at what’s on the walls. With a little background to key pieces and a worthy diversion into the gymnasium stairwell (you’ll find out later) it’s a timely reminder that sometimes the real charm of a hotel is something you might walk right past.
At 12 Decades, in Jozi’s Maboneng Precinct, that’s unlikely though. Here each of the 12 boutique apartments delves into a defining feature of Johannesburg’s history between 1886 to 2006, with each room dreamt up by some of South Africa’s most celebrated artists and designers. Artist Marcus Neustetter and property developer Jonathan Liebmann tap into the gold that is the very foundation of the city. Lauren Wallet highlights a little-known aspect of the city’s theatrical history in a room titled Who is Herbert Dlomo?
Those are wonderfully accessible spaces to discover, but for a little more spend the doors open to an incredible diversity of artworks held in private collections, seen by only the fortunate few.
Ellerman House is a prime example. While it is one of Cape Town’s most beautiful hotels, it’s largely closed to the public, which means you’ll need to book a room if you want to admire the Pierneefs in the lounge or the impressive collection of Bowler watercolours almost hidden in an upper hallway. There are more than 1,000 pieces on display throughout the property, including a handful in the purpose-built Ellerman House Contemporary Art Gallery. It’s almost overwhelming, but happily guided tours by in-house art guides put the collection in context.
It’s a role ably filled by Michael Tsepo Jacobs over at The Silo Hotel too, whisking guests through both the in-house collection and adjoining Zeitz MOCAA. Curated art tours of the city, including behind-the-scenes visits to leading studios allow aficionados to dive even deeper.
In the Cape winelands, Delaire Graff certainly sets the bar high for immersive opportunities to admire one of the world’s most impressive private collections. Merely stepping into the foyer of the cellar building brings you face to face with Tretchikoff’s Chinese Girl, while the opulent Lodges — recently reopened after a lengthy refurbishment — are each home to a hand-picked collection of local and international works.
Prefer big five to fine wine? Look no further than Cheetah Plains, in the game-rich Sabi Sand Reserve, where the owner’s private collection is scattered through the three exclusive-use villas and associated suites. Works by Connor McCreedy loom large, notably in the flagship Mapogo Villa, but you’ll also find the walls hung with the likes of Lionel Smit, Greatjoy Ndlovu and Loyiso Mkize.
There’s so much art, in fact, that a separate gallery is under construction, slated to open in late-2023. So forget the furries for your next safari, and pack your bags in search of fine art.