Hotels: 21c Museum Hotel in Louisville
Showing their own collection
Louisville’s 21c Museum Hotel opened seven years ago, but the cutting-edge art hotel seems to only get increasingly more relevant and interesting. Designed by New York-based architect Deborah Berke, it’s still the only museum hotel in the country. And the exhibits, largely comprised of works from owners Steve Wilson and Laura Lee Brown’s vast personal collection, change regularly. The couple, who lives on a 1,000-acre farm nearby, believe they can help save farmland through urban revitalization. Pull up to the front door — a string of historic cast-iron buildings that Louisville is known for–an oversized chandelier hangs outside over the sidewalk, letting you know this is no ordinary experience.
Plastic red penguins — discovered at the Venice Biennale — peer down from roof. They were so popular in the debut exhibit, they’ve become a 21c art mascot of sorts. Inside, an installation of four sculptures of naked children by Judy Fox loom playfully over the reception desk. The rest of the lobby looks every bit the part of contemporary museum. Cuba Now — 90 paintings, photographs, sculpture, mixed media, video installations by Cuban artists — makes a huge, compelling statement in the space.
The 21c has become such a major hotel success story, plans for two new locations are currently underway: one in Cincannati, the other in Bentonville, Arkansas. Both will be designed by Deborah Burke, who the owners admire for her design without ego.
The hotel also has a fantastic restaurant, Proof, with rotating exhibits, a bar that overlooks historic Main Street and a menu that supports local agriculture. The 90 guest rooms are all spare and serene, creating a comfortable experience for the guests and placing the emphasis on the art and building itself. One of the star amenities is a 21c Pip Mobile — a Lincoln Towne Car stretch limo covered entirely with shiny red glass by Louisvillian Monica Mahoney, who’s a full-time artist with a studio in Clifton.
The 21c is open 24 hours a day, so visitors (both guests and art gawkers) have around-the-clock access to the exhibits. And that’s the a common through-line to the approach here — accessibility. Owners Steve Wilson and Laura Lee Brown, who wanted to make a point that art doesn’t have to be behind a velvet rope, included a handful of site-specific, permanent installations that beg for interaction.
Photo by Kenneth Hayden, ©2008.