Art Talk: Grand Hotel

Grand Hotel

Yup, it’s another post about hotels, but this time I’m not recommending a place to stay. This post is about yet another art exhibition ― one that I stumbled upon when I was at the Vancouver Art Gallery to see Persuasive Visions.

The exhibition takes its name from the 1932 film Grand Hotel, winner of that year’s Oscar for Best Picture. One of the characters in the film keeps muttering, “Grand Hotel … always the same. People come, people go. Nothing ever happens.”

Huh. Yeah, right.

Grand Hotel: Redesigning Modern Life, seemingly an exhibition more appropriate for a museum than an art gallery, looks at the history of the hotel through the lens of four themes: travel, design, social, and culture. Displays include scale models of some of the world’s most architecturally impressive hotels, such as New York’s Waldorf Astoria and Singapore’s Marina Bay Sands. There are photos and memorabilia about the development of Canada’s tourist industry, thanks to the Canadian Pacific railway hotels (“If we can’t export the scenery, we’ll import the tourists”), and the development of the same in the United States, courtesy of Highway 66 and motor hotels. Did you know the InterContinental luxury hotel chain was founded by Pan Am? I didn’t.

The exhibition also looks at hotels as agents of change concerning race, class, and gender. The Algonquin Hotel in New York, host to the 1920s writers group known as the Algonquin Round Table, was one of the first hotels to accept solo female guests. Duke Ellington was known to prefer touring overseas because hotels outside of the United States weren’t segregated.

And, finally, hotels are explored as centres of culture: the aforementioned Algonquin Hotel in New York, gathering place of New York’s literati, the Chateau Marmont, home to film stars during Hollywood’s Golden Age, and Hotel Imperial Vienna, focal point of Vienna’s coffeehouse culture.

Grand Hotel: Redesigning Modern Life will appeal to anyone interested in travel, and is on display at the Vancouver Art Gallery until September 15.

Grand Hotel Atrium

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