What happens when one of the world’s most prominent contemporary art dealers overhauls an ageing hotel by enlisting the talents of two Brazilian brothers?
You get one of the chicest, most sustainable hotels in the whole of Greece, let alone Athens, where New Hotel stands in the shadow of the Acropolis.
When Greek Cypriot billionaire Dakis Joannou added the old Olympic Palace Hotel to his luxury Yes! Hotel Group more than a decade ago, he turned to renowned furniture designers, Campana Brothers, to dramatically transform the building.
Fernando and Humberto Campano have carved out a reputation in Sao Paulo for creating unique chairs that have attracted universal acclaim and been exhibited all over the globe, including inside institutions as prestigious as The Met in New York, Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam, Houston Museum of Fine Art, Musee d’Orsay in Paris and the National Gallery of Victoria.
The brief isn’t too hard to untangle when you stand in the lobby. With recycled furniture pieces from the old hotel all over the walls like a jigsaw puzzle – remnants of another time – it feels like you are standing inside an interactive art space. You could be roaming The Broad in downtown Los Angeles or inside The Tate Modern on the banks of The Thames in London.
And then there are the thought-provoking pieces of art all over the hotel, inside all 79 rooms, as well as the Art Lounge on the top floor that provides panoramic views of all of Athens’ historical landmarks.
Joannou is one of the more connected players in the contemporary art space – and has been for decades. He became friends with American art dealer and curator Jeffrey Deitch in the mid-eighties who quickly opened doors that are usually closed to outsiders.
One of the first pieces Joannou acquired was a Jeff Koons floating basketball sculpture. At that stage, the New York-based artist hadn’t sold the most expensive piece of art ever by a living artist – a playful rabbit sculpture sold for an eye-popping US$91million last May – and hadn’t created the balloon dog that sold for US$58.4 million in 2013.
Koons was a relative unknown in the art world when Joannou bought the Spalding Dr. J 241 Series from Koons’ studio for US$2,700 in 1985 and the pair have remained friends in the 35 years since then.
Three pieces of Koons’ art hang on the wall inside the Art Lounge at the New Hotel and the American was set to host an exhibition during the European summer at Joannou’s art space, Deste Slaughterhouse, on the coast of the picturesque island, Hydra.
That exhibition has been rescheduled for 2021, when Joannou will make the two-hour trip from Athens in his luxury yacht, Guilty, which was designed by, yes, you guessed it, Koons.
Since he first entered the art world four decades ago, Joannou has become one of the biggest movers and shakers in the game. Works from his personal collection have appeared in major museums around the world, including the New Museum in New York City, where he sits on the board. He has also served as the president at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation and Tate Modern.
It is why staying at the New Hotel is more like visiting an art museum and less like staying at a hotel. Although, that’s not to downplay the hotel. In fact, the attention to detail – literally every detail – coupled with the spacious rooms, edgy bathroom designs and unique art provide guests with a unique stay in Athens.
If you are lucky enough to stay in the penthouse, the Acropolis creeps over your shoulder through a window above your bed. You have to see it to believe it, it is that good.
There are now five hotels in the Yes! Hotels Group, which is an acronym for young, enthusiastic and seductive. But this is not your typical chain. No two hotels are the same. Actually, they are nothing alike. They all have a unique feel that aims to incorporate contemporary art into everyday life. That is the Joannou way.
Five minutes down the road is Periscope Hotel in the exclusive Kolonaki neighbourhood. If you are looking for modern minimalism in an inner city hotel, stop your search. This is it.
The award-winning architectural design hotel is a respite from a buzzing metropolis of more than three million residents, hidden in an upmarket part of Athens that is full of surprises.
Periscope has become a local favourite for businessmen and women darting in and out of the capital. With its understated lavishness and size – there are only 22 rooms – the hotel is the urban escape you didn’t realise you need.
And just like Joannou’s other hotels, Periscope has thirteen site-specific installations on the premise. They are projectors in the lobby and 3D animations that catch the eye.
Contemporary art has become increasingly popular in recent years thanks to the likes of Koons, Olafur Eliasson, Yayoi Kusama, Damien Hirst and many others. But rarely do we see the intersection between contemporary art and the hotel game like we do at the New Hotel.
Now we know what we’ve been missing out on.