The beautiful entrance to The Blackstone Hotel — Photo courtesy of The Blackstone Hotel, Autograph Collection
The Blackstone Hotel has played a prominent role in Chicago’s storied history since it opened more than a century ago, playing host to presidents, royalty, celebrities and even gangsters.
With an impressive art collection featuring more than 1,600 contemporary works of art, the luxury hotel continues to create a colorful legacy as a cultural destination in itself. In fact, it rivals some of the city’s most prestigious museums.
"The Blackstone has always been supportive of the artist community," says General Manager Kim Corrigan. "Its Beaux-Arts design is a work of art itself, and a dedicated art gallery was built within the original walls of the hotel upon its completion in 1910. Located on the Cultural Mile, it is only natural to bring this artistic spirit and creative culture to life every day for our guests and associates alike."
Committed to spotlighting Chicago and its local artists, the Blackstone Hotel recently commissioned new pieces to specifically represent the hotel, and made art the focus of both its public and private spaces. There is something interesting and beautiful to see everywhere you look, from the paintings in the lobby to the guest room key cards and do not disturb signs.
"What’s really special is that this world-class artwork isn't in a gallery or museum space," said Katherine Sharp of Nine dot Arts, who helped curate the project. "This is truly bringing art to the public, and that’s so important because people aren’t going to galleries the way they once did. The Blackstone is supporting artists in the best way possible: by actually buying their work for the hotel’s permanent collection and putting it on display for everyone to enjoy."
You can take a self-guided tour of the public pieces and relax with a drink at the unique Timothy’s Hutch. You’ll be able to sit and admire works like Painter by Celeste Rapone, which is placed prominently in the lobby to immediately put the importance of the art into focus.
But nothing beats staying at this iconic hotel and taking the elevator one story at a time to explore the different works of art that greet you on each floor.
Here are ten pieces you really need to see in person:
Painter by Celeste Rapone | Lobby
Artist by Celeste Rapone — Photo courtesy of The Blackstone, Autograph Collection
Celeste Rapone draws from themes of Dutch Golden Age painting, like portrait and still life. She loves to work with patterns and bold, often garish color palettes.
The artist in Painter doesn’t seem engaged in what they’re doing, which makes you want to know more about them. Rapone’s portraits are often referred to as “pretty” because the composition and color are on point but something is definitely off.
Portraits are expected to be beautiful, and this portrait hanging prominently in the lobby lets you know you’re in for lots of surprises as you explore the Blackstone’s art collection.
Orchid Stack VII by Stephen Eichhorn | Art Hall
Orchid Stack VII by Stephen Eichhorn — Photo courtesy of The Blackstone, Autograph Collection
Stephen Eichhorn has taken ikebana and floral arranging to a completely different level with his stunning series of orchid-based hand-cut collages.
They’re gorgeous from a distance, but the closer you get, the more awestruck you’ll be by his fluid, intuitive composition and the patterns, themes and textures he explores with such intricate detail.
The Blackstone Chronicle by Eric Garcia | 6th floor
The Blackstone Chronicle by Eric Garcia — Photo courtesy of The Blackstone, Autograph Collection
You can learn so much about The Blackstone’s history through the graphic art of Eric Garcia.
Imbuing street art style with a historical perspective, he depicts The Blackstone’s reputation as “The Hotel of Presidents,” its place in movies like The Color of Money, its namesake, Timothy Blackstone, and its former owner, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. He doesn't leave out one of the hotel's most colorful guests, Al Capone, who used to hold meetings while getting his hair cut in the hotel’s windowless barbershop.
Neon Classic by Andrew LeMay Cox | 9th floor
Neon Classic by Andrew LeMay Cox — Photo courtesy of The Blackstone, Autograph Collection
Known for his renditions of paintings from influential artists throughout history, Andrew LeMay Cox has reinvented an Anthony Van Dyck portrait of Mary Villiers.
Deconstructing the themes of traditional Baroque art to satisfy contemporary standards of beauty, he dramatically changes the color palette and makes us look at the piece in an unexpected way.
Cooler by the Lake by Joyce Owens | 10th floor
Cooler by the Lake by Joyce Owens — Photo courtesy of The Blackstone, Autograph Collection
Painter and sculptor Joyce Owens is a figurative artist whose work addresses issues around race and gender.
Her style of portraiture is more narrative, and is very much about sharing a story. Cooler by the Lake features a Chicago landscape in the background and two fictional characters based on Lena Horne and Nat King Cole, both of whom were frequent guests of the hotel and who represent the Blackstone’s jazz history.
Brutalized Gainsborough by Chad Wys | 11th floor
Brutalized Gainsborough by Chad Wys — Photo courtesy of The Blackstone, Autograph Collection
Chad Wys’ signature collages juxtapose the old with the new. The woman in this piece may be dressed in period style clothing, but the addition of the brush marks immediately makes it a contemporary work. The big, gold, sculptural frame continues to play on this theme.
Although the hotel tried to get a commissioned piece from Wys, he said he couldn’t make any art in the new political climate. For that reason, Brutalized Gainsborough is one of the few works in the Blackstone that is a poster rather than an original piece of art.
R: 8:54; C: 15:51; L: 14:56 by Michelle Litvin | 12th floor
R 854; C 1551; L 1456 by Michelle Litvin (12th floor) — Photo courtesy of The Blackstone, Autograph Collection
Architectural photographer Michelle Litvin spent 24 hours in The Blackstone, documenting the architectural details that are unique to the hotel and to Chicago.
So much of the original building’s architecture was preserved, and in this triptych, Litvin captures a fireplace in a guest suite, a chandelier in the Grand Ballroom and a window in the English Room. The title is the time stamp of each of the three photos.
Celebrating female innovators at the Racine Art Museum
Celebrating female innovators at the Racine Art Museum
Vandal Gummy Bear by WhIsBe | 14th floor
Vandal Gummy by WhIsBe — Photo courtesy of The Blackstone, Autograph Collection
Al Capone was sentenced to prison on October 17, 1931, and street artist WhIsBe pays homage to that infamous date with this irreverent piece, which is part of his Vandal Gummy Bear series.
The anonymous artist, whose name is short for What Is Beauty, creates prison mugshots of the sweet and much-loved candy bear holding an identity card to spark discussion and get people to explore their preconceptions.
Chicago Flamingos by Katarzyna Krol | 17th floor
Chicago Flamingos by Katarzyna Krol — Photo courtesy of The Blackstone, Autograph Collection
Katarzyna Krol pays homage to Chicago’s legendary architecture with this charcoal and pastel drawing.
Her whimsical illustrations reveal the inspiration behind the 53-foot-tall Alexander Calder stabile which stands proudly on Federal Plaza. Often referred to as simply “the big red statue,” Krol ensures you will never forget its name.
Ideas Filled the Air by Matthew Hoffman | 21st floor
Ideas Filled the Air by Matthew Hoffman — Photo courtesy of The Blackstone, Autograph Collection
A picture may be worth a thousand words but Matthew Hoffman, the artist behind the three million “You Are Beautiful” stickers distributed around the world, uses both to create powerful statements.
This wood piece was commissioned for the hotel, and was inspired by Suite 915 where Republican leaders once met secretly to nominate Warren G. Harding as their party’s presidential candidate. The suite is popularly referred to as "the smoke filled room," thanks to an AP reporter who described the scene of the secret meeting.
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