Art is most frequently encountered in very prescribed locations. Museums, galleries, and living rooms are spaces where the experience of art has been normalized. I suppose it would be fair to say that most hotels are also filled with art, but it might be generous to put most hotel art in the same category of work that you would find in a museum or gallery. In turn, it’s a refreshing surprise to visit a hotel that isn’t afraid to experiment with something different.
The collaboration between Hotel Indigo on lower State Street and the Santa Barbara Museum of Contemporary Art goes back a few years — to the moment that Indigo first opened its doors — and it has remained one of the most successful business/art collaborations this city has seen. To its credit, Hotel Indigo has not relegated the art to a specific room within the hotel but has installed work more or less throughout the space. This does, however, make for a slightly perplexing experience as you wander through the hotel feeling a bit like you are posing as a guest there. Once this mild awkwardness passes, though, there is much to be seen in the communal spaces on both floors of the hotel.
The current exhibition, which opened last week, borrows its title and inspiration from Thomas Mann’s The Magic Mountain. Like Mann’s tome, this show focuses on the healing and transformative experiences that are frequently tied to specific locales, such as Santa Barbara.
The exhibition begins on the south-facing exterior wall of the hotel, where a large mural by Harvard-trained Yunhee Min has appropriately transformed the wall into a large blue-green field of iridescence that changes ever so slightly with the angle and intensity of the sun. If you remember the geometric black-and-white mural that Min’s work replaced, it is a dramatically different experience.
Inside the hotel is a varied group of paintings, artifacts, photographs, and video installations from around the globe. In the lobby, Alyse Emdur’s video “The Fountain of Youth” provides a bit of uneasy comedy as the participants perform a strange water dance in search of longer, healthier lives. Photographs by Boris Mikhailov of Ukrainian tourists relaxing in supposedly therapeutic waters next to instruments of industrial pollution are similarly affecting. It is particularly fun to see a series of vintage photos from Santa Barbara’s own Montecito Hot Springs Resort, which was destroyed in the Coyote Fire of 1964.
Winding through the hotel, you will also find photos by Johan Rosenmunthe, a video and watercolor by Hannah Vainstein, found photos from Vietnam by Truong Cong Tung, videos by Shana Moulton, “Miracle Tree” leaf pressings by John Newling, and a display of Chumash healing artifacts. Zachary Cahill has a series of works imagining what paintings by Mann’s institutionalized patients might look like. Chris Johanson’s wonderful painting on found wood round out a show that gives each of us a reason to pretend to be a tourist in our own town, if only for a visit to Hotel Indigo.