What would an art gallery look like if a hotel were wrapped around it?
That's the question Hotel Chicago West Loop poses and answers amid its 116 rooms.
Nestled between the Chicago skyline and the United Center, the four floors of the boutique hotel at 1622 W. Jackson hold art you won't find anywhere else in the Chicago area — including unique murals from local artists Asend (known for his mix of fine art and graffiti) and JC Rivera, creator of the boxing-glove-wearing Bear Champ character.
The murals are the most recent additions to the hotel's art "Annex." Both creatives were among dozens chosen to put their vision of the city on the walls of Hotel Chicago's rooms.
"I was interested because the hotel wanted artwork inside the guest rooms, which is a little different and unique, as opposed to most projects that are outside on a corner wall or hallway," Asend said. "I wanted to do a portrait, but I also wanted to do my letters — my graffiti style speaks Chicago."
The urban mural exhibit is part of the renovation of the almost 2-year-old hotel that used to be the Rosemoor Hotel, a single room occupancy building. And according to Hotel Chicago operations manager Jean-Luc Laramie, it's just another step in the hotel/gallery fusion concept envisioned by photographer and Portfolio Hotels & Resorts President Helmut Horn.
"We hit something here," Laramie said. "We had this little boutique hotel on the West Side, and we thought, 'Hey, there's all this mural and street art in Chicago and in the world right now. And it's huge, but no one is really doing it inside hotel rooms.' What we're offering is an experience that is pretty unique."
Rivera's boxing bear mural, in a first-floor room, is painted in the colors of the Chicago flag, with red bandages depicting the flag's stars.
Asend's work showcases his modern realism style with a Chicago Theatre-esque sign that represents his love for the city.
When the art-scaped rooms aren't booked, they'll be open for public display — alongside the almost 100 pieces of art throughout the property.
The Annex encompasses the lobby and all four guest hall spaces, featuring primarily photographic works from Horn's personal collection. Images of underwater nudes greet guests in the lobby (black and white works taken with a Hasselblad camera; they look pixelated but are all done on film). On the first-floor hallway walls, images pay homage to Cuba.
The second floor is the "most Instagrammed floor," Laramie said. That's because lighting can change to thousands of different colors. All of the images on the second floor are black-and-white photos that seem European but look more Midwestern.
On the third and fourth floors, there's a mix of art — Asian tapestry, images that once were in Hugh Hefner's hands, according to Laramie, and a piece showing the Grand Canyon etched in silver. It's on these levels that the hotel wants to bring in the works of more artists from the community.
For its mural initiative, Hotel Chicago worked with the Chicago Artists Resource, the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and Galerie F to find artists like Asend and Rivera. (The artists applied through these outlets, which posted the hotel's requests for proposals.) The Annex plans to host future programming with local galleries, university art programs and area artists to bring in new exhibits on a rotating basis.
"The Annex has really turned from these stills (owned) by Helmut Horn to bringing in works of other artists — bringing in other communities, really reaching out and getting into the community," Laramie said.
In pursuit of this goal to support the arts, Hotel Chicago is taking 10 percent of room rates and donating it to Arts Alliance Illinois. Room rates at Hotel Chicago West Loop start at $119 nightly.
"It's called the Annex rate, which is the same rate we offer to everybody, but we take 10 percent from what we get from the guests, and we donate it over to Art Alliance," Laramie said. "There's such a vibrant and beautiful art community here that we just want it to keep growing, developing and evolving as we do — we really want to become part of it."
A free opening reception and viewing of the Annex Urban Mural Exhibit and its artists will be held 5-8 p.m. Thursday.