May 22, 2012 at 8:26 AM ET
When guests arrive at 21c Museum Hotel, a 90-room boutique hotel in Louisville, Ky., they might encounter a three-foot-tall bright-red penguin waiting patiently in their room.
No need for alarm: This visitor belongs to a group of oversized penguin sculptures (part of an exhibition called “Red Penguin” by Cracking Art Group) that “migrate” from place to place in the hotel, riding up and down elevators and appearing on the roof or in the spa. They’re an installation-turned-mascots of sorts for a hotel — which is adjoined by its very own contemporary art museum that houses more than $10 million of 21st-century art, with video installations in the lobby and sculptures and paintings in nearly every nook and cranny — that prides itself not only on its hospitality but also on its role as curator.
Some of the world’s best art calls a hotel home. And though few approach curating with 21c’s quirky humor (besides the migrating penguins, its offerings include an interactive exhibit involving a two-way mirror in the men’s room), experienced travelers are becoming increasingly familiar with the premise.
Take, for example, the Gramercy Park Hotel, where the Julian Schnabel–designed lobby is offset by a treasure trove of pieces by artists like Andy Warhol and Damien Hirst. Or the Rome Cavalieri, which features a collection of Beauvais tapestry matched only by collections found at The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and The Getty in Los Angeles. Or the Bellagio in Las Vegas, where original Picassos hang on the walls of its restaurant and 20 paintings by Claude Monet currently occupy its gallery.
At hotels such as these, you can linger over masterworks, admire them on bedroom walls and simply live with them for a while. The trick, though, is to know where to look.
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