Hotel is a work of art that houses local works of art

August 17, 2008|By Edward Gunts | Edward Gunts,Sun architecture critic

Downtown Baltimore has a new art gallery, but visitors can't buy any of its works.

The art is on the walls of the Hilton Baltimore Convention Center Hotel that opens Friday.

As part of its theme of celebrating Baltimore, the city-owned building is filled with contemporary paintings, prints, photographs, mosaics and other works by 31 artists who either live or work in the Baltimore area.

The hotel contains more than 2,300 works in all, representing an investment of about $650,000. Four were site-specific pieces commissioned for prominent public spaces. Others were purchased after the artists created them. They can be seen everywhere, including in the lobby bar, corridors outside the ballrooms and 757 guest rooms and suites.

FOR THE RECORD - A wall sculpture by Helen Elliott in the new Hilton Baltimore Convention Center Hotel was misidentified in a photo caption in Sunday's Arts & Life Today section. Its title is Where Land Meets Water.
The Sun regrets the errors.

Susan Perrin Art Consulting of Timonium was the art advisor on the design team. Perrin said the directors of the nonprofit corporation that developed the building, the Baltimore Hotel Corp., didn't want to fill it with generic "hotel art."

Since the building is owned by the city, she said, the directors wanted to use it as a way to showcase local artists' works. The works were framed by local companies, too.

"This is unusual in that it's almost 100 percent focused on featuring Baltimore artists," Perrin said. "It was the direction of the Baltimore Development Corp. and the Baltimore Hotel Corp., and Hilton embraced it. It helps create a visual memory of the place ... so people know they're in Baltimore and not another city."

Although the art has no overriding theme, many of the pieces depict urban landscapes or other subjects with a local connection, including water, music and sports. Many are by black artists; many are abstract. One illustrator, Michael Owen, created 22 works of graphic design that identify meeting rooms named after famous Baltimoreans, such as Francis Scott Key and Billie Holiday.

The art ranges from works by artists just beginning their careers to established artists whose work is in museum collections. More than a third of the artists featured are graduates of the Maryland Institute College of Art. Perrin said she didn't issue a formal call for art but worked with organizations such as the Baltimore Office of Promotion and the Arts, Maryland Art Place, Creative Alliance and MICA. She said she, project manager Irene Van Sant and architect Dan Freed went to exhibits and galleries in search of works that would be appropriate.

A lot of the work represents a fresh take on familiar themes or otherwise reflects Baltimore's vaunted quirkiness.

"Some of the art challenges you," Perrin said. "People will stop and look and ask, 'What is this about?' "

The four commissioned pieces are by Mari Gardner, who created a mosaic mural entitled Conversing Waters for the wall behind the main reception desk; Heidi Lippman, who created a large art-glass piece called Light Matters for the lobby bar; Helen Elliott, who created a wall-mounted sculpture entitled Where Land Meets Water for a "pre-function" space at the top of the main escalator; and Loring Cornish, who created a glass mosaic triptych called Downtown Rain for another pre-function space outside the grand ballroom.

The artists said they were honored that Baltimore wanted to include their work.

"I'm really grateful," said Cornish, whose work can be seen while standing outside the building on Camden Street.

"Having my artwork permanently displayed in the Baltimore Hilton convention hotel and being a part of a project dedicated to the belief in Baltimore artists is an opportunity that I will forever cherish."

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