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Hotel art was once the byword for twee scenes of boats in calm seas, laden Provençal tables, children playing gaily on cobbled boulevards, and vapid posies… It was purposefully uncomplicated, white-noise decor designed to fade into the background like a pretty ghost.

Modern guests like a little stimulation – and something visually arresting to add to their Instagram stream – but mostly pieces that are as chin-strokingly inscrutable as they are captivating. Get ready to say ‘But, what does it mean?’ in a philosophically beleaguered voice as we round up the top hotels for an arty awakening.

Villa La Coste

The gallery at Villa La Coste

Villa La Coste, Provence, France

We’ve all been there… You go to a few too many art auctions, get a little paddle-happy, then your good friend Damien Hirst offers you a painting – ‘Oh no, Damien, I couldn’t possibly’, you demur, but he insists. Then, Louise Bourgeois bequeaths you three steel towers; and soon, your lavish Provençal estate is so art-filled that even Ikea doesn’t have a solution. Property developer Patrick McKillen turned this problem into an opportunity in opening flabbergastingly cultured French hotel Villa La Coste, the legit way to sleep in a gallery.

What’s on show? Everyone. No, really. Hanging out here is like travelling in time to the Factory with a few YBAs, outliers and architects. McKillen knows all the who’s whos. Bourgeois’ spider crouches above a reflecting pool (Alexander Calder hangs out here too); Tracey Emin has installations within and out; Ai Wei Wei’s laid a path in the grounds; Paul Matisse, Richard Serra and Fernand Léger vie for attention within; and Hiroshi Sugimoto is a fixture in the bedrooms.

But you can’t hang your art in any old Château; mais non, you get Renzo Piano to design your photography gallery; Frank Gehry to spruce up your music room; Jean Nouvel to rustle up a winery; and have a couple of Jean Prouvé houses and a 19th-century Vietnamese tea pavilion shipped in. Oh, and get Oscar Niemeyer to build an amphitheatre.

Bigger picture? Not so much rooms as modernist villas, guests slumber in sizeable, art-clad abodes. Each has furnishings from Vietnamese design house District Eight and colouring is minimal, as views of the Luberon massif, Mont Ventoux and beyond, the Alps, suffice for embellishment. The estate is an expanse of lavender fields, woodland, olive groves, and vineyards – another string to the estate’s bow, a wellspring of biodynamic wines. And, resident chef Gérald Passédat has proven gravitational pull for Michelin stars.

The Thief hotel, Oslo, Norway

Antony Gormley’s cast-iron figure outside the Thief hotel

The Thief, Oslo, Norway

Wander down to Oslo’s hip waterfront district Tjuvholmen and you’ll see The Thief’s sleek curved structure, like a ship cresting into Oslo fjord. This city isle already has an artsy haven in the Astrup Fearnley Museum, where Kippenberger and Koons, Matthew Barney and Takashi Murakami and a cache of up-and-coming Norwegian creatives reside. In neighbourly fashion, the museum’s curator Sune Nordgren has popped over to the Thief to deck its halls with Pop classics, digital masters and cult contemporary works.

What’s on show? You’ll suss the hotel’s arty inclinations at the door, where Antony Gormley’s foetal form lies (it’s slightly startling if arriving after dark). In the lobby, Richard Prince’s The Horse Thief rears into view, and Niki de Saint Phalle’s colourful creatures play. Request the curator-led art tour for a visual feast serving up Sir Peter Blake, Julian Opie, Albert Mertz, Warhol, Astrid Sylwan’s vivid canvases and Ørnulf Opdahl’s moody landscapes. On the third floor is the Thief’s Art Space, where up-and-comers are showcased. Book the Penthouse Suite for your own private gallery with Peter Blake collages.

Bigger picture? The hotel’s retro look is as aesthetically pleasing as its collection. A roster of designers (Patricia Urquiola, Sir Terence Conran, Lee Broom and Antonio Citterio), have dressed rooms in sultry green, grey and blue hues, with fiery autumnal touches and burnished copper and gold accents. Apparatjik, a supergroup formed of Coldplay, Mew and A-ha musicians, have been let loose on their namesake suite, achieving a Le Freak, C’est Chic disco look with mirror-ball lights, sparkly cushions and silver throws. There’s a destination spa and Finnish sauna, and fine mod-Scandi fare in restaurant Fru K, too.

James Turrell, Amanzoe, East Peloponnese, Greece

James Turrell’s ‘Sky Plain’ inside a private villa at Amanzoe

Amanzoe, East Peloponnese, Greece

We can’t guarantee toga parties, but glamorous Grecian resort Amanzoe rewrites Grecian history in its mod-classical form. Traditional columns and pediments have been refined to fit the Aman brand’s signature minimalism, plus a lavish spa and beach club with four swimming pools are welcome modern touches. The coast, distant islands and lush Peloponnese countryside enhance the hotel’s 360-degree views, and within private guest pavilion, Villa 31, there’s an immersive sensory installation by master of light and space (and inspiration behind Drake’s Hotline Bling video) James Turrell.

What’s on show? Sky Plain takes inspiration from the hotel’s name, which means ‘peaceful life’. The piece lets light flood into an empty room through an aperture in the villa’s ceiling. The idea is that this concentrated dose of Greek sunshine, lapis-lazuli-blue skies and vitamin C will give guests a sense of inner wellbeing. There are marble benches to recline on as you meditate and it’s a prime spot for watching the sun rise and sink.

The bigger picture Be warned, this holistic cure for SAD comes at a cost; the installation is housed in one of the hotel’s grandest villas, which has a private 22-metre pool, lounging terraces with Argosaronic Gulf views and a living room arranged around a reflecting pool, plus interiors that would find favour with the Greek pantheon. But, guests staying in the regular luxury villas can be anointed by Turrell’s heavenly light by booking a private dinner at the villa.

1 Hotel Brooklyn Bridge, New York City

1 Hotel Brooklyn Bridge

1 Hotel Brooklyn Bridge, New York, USA

Boutique hotel 1 Hotel Brooklyn Bridge’s setting by the border of Dumbo and Brooklyn Heights gives it a headstart in artistic renown. Brooklyn Bridge Park and Pier are littered with pieces by names as illustrious as Anish Kapoor, and it’s the setting for the annual Fence photography showcase. Both fledgling and established graffiti artists use the surroundings as a sketchpad, and galleries and pop-ups abound; the hotel offers a hip waterfront home in the eye of this creative storm.

What’s on show? Local talents have enlivened the lobby, rooms, even stairwells. Pieces do more than perk up walls too; much like the neighbourhood’s community, they bear historical awareness and a social conscience. Jarrod Beck’s All OVEREACHOTHER is crafted from pieces of a convenience store roof that was damaged by a hurricane; Rachel Mica Weiss’s obsidian-and-yarn installations reference Brooklyn’s seafaring past and Olivié Ponce’s murals in the Corner Suites are a respectful nod to Hurricane Sandy’s devastation.

The bigger picture The hotel’s greener than Lady Liberty’s complexion. There’s a requisite ‘look how verdant we are’ living wall, but earth-kind fixtures also include interiors patched together from salvaged railroad ephemera and wood from a defunct Kentucky distillery, Tesla cars for guests to borrow, and a rainwater trap to help irrigate the neighbouring park. The hotel runs on wind power and rooms will satisfy the most stringent naturalist, with hemp linens and filtered water running from taps. Lampshades by Danielle Trofe are crafted from mushroom mycelium, so in a pinch they’re a healthy snack – but you may prefer the restaurant’s foraged fare.

Cape View Clifton, Cape Town, South Africa

A Deluxe Studio Apartment at Cape View Clifton

Cape View Clifton, Cape Town, South Africa

The view of the 12 Apostles and the ocean beyond is Cape View Clifton’s most artistic asset, offering plenty to muse on from the pool or terrace. However, we’d be remiss to leave this South African beauty off this list, as it’s a mere 15-minute ride from Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa, a freshly launched, history-making gallery with the aim of representing work from Africa’s 54 nations.

What’s on show? The gallery’s catalogue is a rich well of African culture, showing the diverse styles and preoccupations of each country: the sinister beauty of Zimbabwean artist Misheck Masamvu’s colourful paintings; Swazi sculptor Nandipha Mntambo’s delicate female forms; and Tunisian photographer Mouna Karray’s shrouded figures and social commentary. There’s work by international artists such as Chris Ofili, Frohawk Two Feathers and Glenn Ligon too, focusing on themes of identity, politics, history and sexuality. Additionally, there’s a touch of humour from South African Frances Goodman, whose portfolio includes sketches of Tinder ‘dick pics’.

The bigger picture Cape View Clifton overlooks Blue Flag beaches and sandy Camps Bay, so you’re just a short walk from superlative sunbathing spots. But, if that sounds like too much effort, flop onto one of several sunset-facing loungers on the hotel’s terrace.

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