Is it a hotel or an art museum? It’s a question posed by Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton during remarks at the soft opening of the Found:RE hotel on Tuesday, October 25.
Stanton joined dozens of invited guests gathered poolside at the hotel, praising the vision of Tim Sprague, principal for the real estate development firm Habitat Metro.
The 105-room Found:RE, which is located on the northwest corner of Central Avenue and Portland Street, is one of many Habitat Metro projects in downtown Phoenix. Others include Portland on the Park and Portland Place condos. Earlier this month, Sprague was honored with a Mayor's Arts Award for being a community innovator.
Habitat Metro worked with Bond Partners on the adaptive reuse project, bringing back to life the building that formerly housed the Lexington Hotel. The Lexington shuttered in April 2012.
Stanton's art museum reference is perfectly understandable, given that works by more than two dozen local artists are displayed throughout the hotel. There’s art in the lobby, corridors, guest rooms, and Match Cuisine & Cocktails.
That’s because Found:RE has a full-time cultural curator, Mike Oleskow, a longtime staple of the downtown Phoenix arts scene. While invited guests arrived on Tuesday night, Oleskow stood atop a short ladder near the hotel elevators, making sure a painting was perfectly secured to the wall.
Elevators and bathrooms are two of the few places that aren’t filled with artwork. During Tuesday’s soft opening, guests spotted murals, paintings, photographs, sculptures, and mixed-media works.
Diego Pérez is close to completing a mural on an exterior west-facing wall, and Lucretia Torva recently completed her mural that lines a wall running parallel to the swimming pool. A giant lime-green dinosaur on wheels sat poolside Tuesday night, as its creator Jeff Zischke mingled with other guests nearby.
Several additional artists, many with works at the hotel, attended the soft opening – including Aileen Frick and Niki Woehler. But other local artists, including Marilyn Szabo, also joined the celebration.
Guests who approached the hotel from Portland Street could enter through an art gallery, which has entrances both off the street and off the hotel’s outdoor pool area.
The first exhibition, featuring works by Travis Ivey, was curated by Robrt Pela (a longtime New Times contributor) of R. Pela Contemporary Art. Future exhibitions will be curated by Oleskow.
People who approach Found:RE from Central Avenue immediately see two art pieces. There’s red neon text reading “find yourself,” and a large-scale sculpture of an ear.
Found:RE also features digital artworks, including images on the entryway floor that are activated when people walk across it. On the upper portion of a south-facing exterior wall, there’s a space used for projecting images of everything from clouds to cats.
It’s clear Oleskow isn’t going for safe or boring in his curation. Randy Slack’s painting of a reclining, nude Burt Reynolds (with one arm strategically placed over his groin) hangs behind the registration desk. Fine art photographs placed at eye level near the elevators include a partially nude woman. It’s tasteful, rather than torrid. But there’s always the chance not everyone will see it that way.
Every guest room has artworks as well, and a one-of-a-kind mixed-media room number created by Cheryle Marine as well.
One artist created large-scale portraits with puzzle-like pieces, so guests can mix and match various facial features in a grown-up take on playing Mr. Potato Head.
Those who frequent the downtown Phoenix art scene will likely recognize several of the works hanging on Found:RE walls, which include Shauna Thibault’s piece shown during the recent "Chaos Theory 17" exhibition at Legend City Studios.
A work by Fred Tieken hangs over an ATM tucked away in a small niche near the lobby. And Wayne Rainey’s photograph of buildings demolished to make way for new apartments in Roosevelt Row, first exhibited during the 2016 Artlink Juried Exhibition, hangs inside Match Cuisine & Cocktails.
Design details from lighting to bathroom fixtures have an upscale industrial feel. Many were locally sourced, says Vittal Calamur, general manager for Found:RE.
As guests left Tuesday’s soft opening, they got a small brown paper swag bag with one final tie-in to the local arts scene: a map of downtown Phoenix drawn by artist Jen Urso.