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Fontainebleau Hotel commissions major artists to become a true 'art hotel'

The Fontainebleau will show works by Turrell, Ai Weiwei and Rauschenberg

By the time visitors to Art Basel Miami Beach arrive in town next year, there will be a new art destination—but it won’t be a museum or a satellite fair. It will be the renovated Fontainebleau Hotel on Collins Avenue, embellished with three chandeliers commissioned from the hot Chinese artist Ai Weiwei, new sculptures by James Turrell, a painting straight from the studio of Robert Rauschenberg and five recastings of Yves Klein’s Blue Venus.

Glenn Schaeffer, the chief executive of Fontainebleau Resorts, is aiming to make the Fontainebleau the first of 12 to 15 of its art hotels around the world, each with its own commissioned pieces of art. “We want to show people what they’ve never seen,” Mr Schaeffer told The Art Newspaper. “We’ll use light and space as part of the architectural structure.” As we reported on Wednesday, Le Meridien chain is among a number in Miami now commissioning works of art to embellish their hotels.

Le Meridien will have a standard room rate of $329 per night, comparable with a standard room at the Fontainebleau at $250 to $300 per night. Mr Schaeffer claims this will make mid-Miami Beach fashionable again.

“James Turrell is the lead artist for all of the hotels,” says Mr Schaeffer, describing a curved, glass wall sculpture, with varying and changing colours, that Turrell is creating for the space behind the front desk. Turrell will also create glass balconies for Fontainebleau suites.

Mr Schaeffer’s purchase of Rauschenberg’s Homestead, a photographic transfer painting from 2002 whose main image is an alligator, was brokered by private Los Angeles dealer James Corcoran. Mr Schaeffer declined to answer any questions about the prices he is paying.

The Fontainebleau, designed in the 1950s by legendary architect Morris Lapidus and frequented by the likes of Frank Sinatra, Elvis Presley and members of the mafia, is undergoing a $1 billion renovation. “Morris Lapidus invented the concept of theatrical hospitality when he decreed ‘the consumer is the star’ and created his ‘stairway to nowhere’ that allowed people to make grand entrances,” Mr Schaeffer said, explaining his own philosophy. “We intend to preserve and extend that legacy.” That stairway will be put back in place, and—extending the idea—Fontainebleaus around the world will also have a lot of reflective surfaces and video.

Mr Schaeffer says his hotels will be true art hotels because, rather than adding pieces after the hotels are completed, “art will be organic to the feeling of the place. It’s not something you hang on the wall; art creates a feeling of being special. The clientele doesn’t have to know art—they will just know it’s exciting and it’s happening.”

Mr Schaeffer says the prototype for his art hotels is the Miami Beach Fontainebleau. Then, in 2009, the Fontainebleau resort in Las Vegas, complete with casino, will open. After that, “the next one will be international,” he says—though where has not been decided. Ai Weiwei will have a commission for that one, too. “At each hotel, we’ll use five, six, or seven artists,” he says, though not always the same one. Daniel Buren, for example, is part of the Las Vegas design, but will not have a presence in Miami.

Mr Schaeffer says he took up an interest in art about five years ago when he met art critic Dave Hickey. “I got hooked. It’s an addiction.” He collects mostly American minimalist works, “with a West coast bias.”

Stairways of Light

Ai Weiwei, whose commissions will grace the lobby, was chosen after Glenn Schaeffer, the chief executive of Fontainebleau Resorts, saw several of his chandeliers. “He’s a premier conceptualist,” Schaeffer said. “And his bird’s nest design for the Beijing National Stadium will be the most seen building in the world thanks to the Olympics” next summer. As The Art Newspaper reported last month, Weiwei has also been commissioned by Tate Liverpool to create a work for the Liverpool Biennale in September next year.

He is at ABMB with Mary Boone (F5) and Robert Miller (G6) galleries and on show at the Cisneros Fontanals Art Foundation (CIFO)

Originally appeared in The Art Newspaper as 'Hotel commissions major artists'