Musings on What Shinola Hotel’s Art Collection Says About Detroit

Detroit Isn’t a City that Needs Saving, But it Could Always Use a Good Ambassador

Shinola
Interior of Living Room. Photo by Nicole Franzen for Shinola

Interior of Living Room. Photo by Nicole Franzen for Shinola

Shinola may not be saving anything, but they are good ambassadors of the city. This seems to be the case with the Shinola Hotel, the multi-building collaboration with real estate partner, Bedrock. 

The pictures in this post may be familiar. That’s intentional. They’ve been taken in the hotel’s “living room,” a space Shinola hopes becomes familiar to many Detroiters. While there are plenty of restaurants, bars and cafes in and near the hotel this place is neither. The living room is free from transactions. There are no counters in sight—bar or café—and the room is free of menus. One is not being sold anything—other than, of course, a lifestyle. 

It is an expansive living room with inviting furniture, books worth reading, art worth discussing, a working fireplace and a refreshingly honest intention: create a space for the general public to have an intimate experience of the Shinola brand.  And it works. Part of the reason why, and the heartbeat of the room, is its art collection, curated in collaboration with Library Street Collective. The power of art is the ability to transcend the market to imbue sacred into the everyday. It may be human’s most accessible form of magic, and it’s doing its work at the Shinola Hotel. 

The collection is extensive, containing many internationally recognizable names from galleries and museums alike, including Mario Moore, Greg Fadel, Nick Cave, Robert William Moreland, Scott Reeder and McArthur Binion. 

A few weeks ago

Interior of Living Room. Photo by Nicole Franzen for Shinola

Interior of Living Room. Photo by Nicole Franzen for Shinola

I toured the hotel with Shinola’s Creative Director Daniel Caudill and Library Street Collective’s Director Sara Nickelson, the two people in charge of curating the hotel’s art. It was a lively and informative meeting, but here I will share only the most salient takeaways:  

Shinola’s art collection is charmingly personal, including a piece from Caudill’s young niece. It also contains a work repainted by Nickelson herself. Out of necessity. Not ego. You won’t find her name in the list of artists, but it is a story worth hunting down.  

The living room is everything you’ve ever wanted from a gallery: knowledgeable guides and couches. Each work of art was chosen with great intention. Pick a piece. Any piece. And both Caudill and Nickelson can carry on at length. Similarly, the entire hotel staff has received training on the works and artists. Questions are encouraged. 

The collection is an accurate representation of Detroit’s creative scene.  

In conclusion 

The art collection at the Shinola is not a survey of Detroit artists, but it does express a simple, often overlooked fact: Detroit is actively engaged in a global art scene. 

Just as artists come to Detroit from cities like NYC and LA, Detroit-based artists travel to other cities to create, teach and exhibit their work. Many of these artists, Detroit-based or otherwise, have shown work together in exhibitions outside of the city.  

This body of work is special to Detroit, but it could easily be in any city.

Shinola didn’t have to think about Detroit to curate a collection that represents the creative richness of this city. Similarly, they didn’t need to hire Detroit-based designers to enhance the Detroit-ness of the building. One cannot separate Detroit’s contributions, past and present, to modern art and design.  

It is this richness that drew Shinolathe brand, to Detroit.  

Shinola isn’t saving Detroit because it doesn’t need saving. It is, and has never stopped being, a city worth engaging.  

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