Boutique hotels clamor to hang original art, many offering organic platforms for regional work. But the AC Hotel in Spartanburg is on a completely new spectrum. Built to house a museum-quality collection, the hotel, along with its art, is a place to behold.
It’s the first AC Hotel in South Carolina, built by OTO Development on the corner of West Main Street and Daniel Morgan Avenue. With 114 rooms scaling 10 stories, it’s a striking juxtaposition of architecture; the exterior built in the grand tradition of Carolina brick and mortar, but belying interior spaces created with LEED certification in mind and unadorned clean lines, white and bright and flexible in multifunctional possibilities.
The art is a permanent installation of forty Black Mountain College paintings and sculpture from The Johnson Collection (though at times it’s borrowed for exhibition by institutions like the National Gallery of Art). A private Spartanburg collection including extensive artwork from the American South, The Johnson Collection pays particular homage to Black Mountain works, which arose from the now defunct North Carolina artistic hub in the mid-1900s. A large Robert Rauschenberg hangs behind the reservation desk. It was the first work installed at the hotel, which opened in December, and is now an ever-present lobby fixture with its consummate indigo and violet.
The masterpieces play on with stunning installments of the work of both Josef and Anni Albers, several paintings by Elaine de Kooning, a Pat Passlof oil that’s hard to look away from, as well as a floating Ruth Asawa sculpture hung for the shadows it throws across the elevator bank. Collection Manager Sarah Tignor spent hours in a cherry picker machine assessing the placement inch-by-inch.
A Kenneth Noland acrylic inhabits the landing between the first and second floor, accessed by an LED-lit floating staircase. The skewed octagon canvas is a notable example of Noland’s signature staining technique—achieved by streaking paint across an unprepped canvas—and its scale can be appreciated from either floor, coming or going.
The second floor offers meeting and party spaces bedecked with avant-garde Black Mountain College art. The hall is bookended by no less than a circuitous work by Ilya Bolotowsky matched with a geometric interpretation by Sewell Sillman; the paintings boldly explore graphic color as subject and draw the audience toward their alcoves. A mesmerizing seascape by Balcomb Greene feels contemporary in nature over a sofa and rug combination in the same hues, even though the painting is from last century. It was interestingly the second choice for the wall, but looks commissioned specifically for the interiors.
The Johnson Collection worked in tandem with OTO’s architecture firms (McMillan Pazdan Smith and David M. Schwartz) to ensure early input regarding wall scale, art placement, safety and climate control, and technical aspects of lighting. Each work is individually lit with the correct aperture for size and scale. Staff routinely assesses the art; they dust by hand and check that each is plumb on the wall or in its stand.
Some may think it reckless to install such valuable art within arm’s reach of the public, but The Johnson Collection doesn’t see it that way. Communications Director Lynne Blackman explains that art doesn’t have to reside in marble-clad museums, but can live anywhere, including where you eat breakfast with your kids or have conversations with colleagues—it can absolutely hang on a wall with a fire-exit sign and restaurant light switches.
“It’s all about how this art can be a part of the everyday,” she says. “Our collection here at the AC represents that integration. Art is not a luxury. For some people it’s the air they breathe, and for everyone it can be refreshment.”
AC Hotel Spartanburg, 225 W Main St, Spartanburg. (864) 585-8900, marriott.com/hotels/travel/spaac-ac-hotel-spartanburg