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Bobby Hotel

Bobby Hotel Puts Nashville on the Art Map

Nashville, TN, is a place where fun, food, and melodies co-exist. As travelers journey to its sights—mainly to the thoroughfare of Broadway to catch live music from emerging talent—they may now find something visual to enjoy, too. Contemporary art is on the rise in the Tennessee capital, with dynamic presentations at museums, institutions, and even hotels, greeting guests with art that speaks to memory, loss, migration, self-expression, and more.

On a recent trip to Nashville, we took in a photography presentation by Tyler Shields at Bobby Hotel, filled with vibrant images that sparked thought on how hospitality utilizes art’s meaning to create dialogue beyond its walls. Other design and furniture objects—like leather chairs, tufted velvet ottomans, graphic wallpaper, bespoke carpets, and luxe chandeliers—gave the space a unique sense of warmth.

Bobby Hotel Courtesy of Bobby Hotel.

“At Bobby, we are right at the heart of Nashville’s downtown Arts District. A big part of Bobby’s mission is supporting Nashville’s local culture as a patron of the arts—whether that be partnering with a local gallery, showcasing local musicians, or even sourcing from local purveyors for our cafe, rooftop, and Union Tavern,” said Joel Morales, the hotel’s Director of Marketing.Bobby Hotel goes beyond placing art on the walls as we strive to bring awareness and exposure to the artists curated into the space while providing them a unique platform to sell their work outside of a traditional gallery. In turn, we’re able to share unique perspectives, spark conversation and inspire our guests through themes we collaboratively create at the hotel.”

Bobby Hotel Photography by Tyler Shields, courtesy of Bobby Hotel.

Seen in Shields’s show were images that touched upon the indulgence of life’s little treasures—from champagne and flowers to stilettos and smoking. Reimagining a basic item as a luxury item was at its center. A champagne coupe balance on the bottom of a woman’s heel created contrast in color and material; butterflies over another woman’s eyes filled the space with vibrant color and texture; and a series of close-up images of a woman’s red lips showed various expressions, from relaxed to surprised. 

“I started this series years ago with the idea to create a different world for luxury. One of the first ideas was Prada popcorn to glamorize a basic item, and I had no idea how massive the series would become at the time,” said Shields. “When I started the series, the culture was not what it is now. I think culture caught up to it. That’s why the series is still going and even bigger now than when I first released it.”

Bobby Hotel Courtesy of Bobby Hotel.

Seen throughout the hotel’s lobby, cafe, rooftop, and in each room are other works that might put Nashville on the map as an art destination. All curated in partnership with Tinney Contemporary by the gallery’s Manager, Joshua Bennett, rotating exhibitions on view at the Bobby Hotel stem from his personal relationship to art and design. 

Bobby Hotel Courtesy of Bobby Hotel.

“Art, and more specifically, design, is central to my motivation as a creative person,” Bennett said. “Whether it’s a curatorial project, a work of fine art, a custom furniture piece, a show poster for a friend’s band, or a Mardi Gras costume, I try to assert intention to as many details as possible. My mode or philosophy to design is to make it odd––or even off-putting––just enough to draw attention and request a reconsideration of convention.”

Now on view at the hotel through April is a group exhibition dedicated to florals named “TEMPTER,” featuring works by artists like Leah Guadagnoli, Sky Kim, and Herb Williams. Ahead of its closing, Whitewall spoke with Bennett to hear how he approaches the hotel’s exhibitions to consider a new environment for locals and visitors from around the globe. 

Bobby Hotel SusanTinney, JeffCrabiel, and Joshua Bennett, courtesy of Bobby Hotel.

WHITEWALL: How are you considering what you curate and present at Bobby Hotel to evoke a new environment? 

JOSHUA BENNETT: Bobby has what I consider to be a very rich and eclectic aesthetic density. The challenge as a curator in their space is to bring in works and place them in a favorable sequence so that nothing is lost in the noise. It is my goal for the works on display to offer up visual moments of rest, or punctuations that arrest the visitor’s gaze and then redirect. Often, I will attempt to use visual elements within the pieces themselves as directional cues, leading one’s eyes to the next feature. When curating in such a space, it’s essential to consider the exhibition in a holistic manner. This is wildly different from curating in a white cube, devoid of any idiosyncrasy or character.

Bobby Hotel Courtesy of Bobby Hotel.

WW: Typically, how do you approach curation?

JB: It truly depends on the project. Curating a solo exhibition is quite different from a group show with a larger number of participating artists. If there is any constant of curatorial style, despite the application, I suppose it would be an astute attention to the design of the exhibition, especially as it pertains to rhythm, pacing, and overall experience of the viewer. The order in which the works are placed can alter the experience greatly. This applies to a multi-layered and visually dense space like Bobby, as well as the white walls of our gallery space. I like to think of exhibitions as stories within a moment in time. The pieces included have their own pasts and their own futures, but while they exist in proximity they engage in dialogue and unfold a unique story for a specific duration of time.

WW: When visiting the hotel, we caught a show by Tyler Shields. Why was he a photographer you wanted to exhibit?

JB: Tyler Shields is a represented artist by Tinney Contemporary, the gallery I manage and curate. It was about time for Tyler to show with us again. So, we decided instead of exhibiting Tyler’s work in a fairly straight-forward exhibition, a more exciting move was to show his work at Bobby Hotel through our partnership. His photographs are bold enough in both subject matter and in color to offer visual punctuations in the space. They catch the eye because of their suggestive eroticism or sensational spectacle. They allow the visitor to pause and react with shock and/or glee. Tyler Shields is one of the more globally recognized artists we work with, so we wanted to feature his photographs in a venue that hosts an international clientele. Additionally, Tyler’s photos both critique and participate in the idea of glamour and luxury, which feels to sync with Bobby’s ambition. 

WW: How did you want his series “Indulgent” to make the viewer feel?

JB: The title “Indulgent” comes from the selection of Tyler’s work that we decided to show. However, I would say that a large portion of Tyler’s work investigates the human desire for pleasure, whether that be erotic, consumeristic, or even catharsis in destruction. I hope that in the case of Tyler’s photographs in Bobby Hotel, my aim is that they invite the viewer to participate in a fantasy. That fantasy can be their own or whatever they feel like Tyler is presenting through his unique perspective. The images feel flirtatious. Each one is a devil on the shoulder.

WW: The current show, “TEMPTER,” is focused on florals, which seems to be a soothing contrast to “Indulgent.” Why did you want to show an exhibition dedicated to flowers?

JB: Many contemporary artists are investigating floral motifs with imaginative and creative success. I am excited to hinge a show on a singular subject and present a wide variety of perspectives through different modes of making. 

WW: Is there a certain place you’re finding inspiration for new art and design right now?

JB: Admittedly, I do look at Instagram daily and have found a lot of inspiring artists through my network of friends around the world. In fact, a lot of my professional interactions and exhibitions for my own artistic career have been made through Instagram. For that reason I think it’s a great resource for getting an idea of what is out there and having access to contact artists directly. What becomes problematic is the fact that I’m only seeing a digital version on a small (likely cracked) screen, with absolutely zero context. It isn’t what I consider experiencing the full potential of art. That is why it is important to go to exhibitions and visit artists’ studios. Though art fairs produce a specific brand of anxiety for me, I’ve been exposed to some incredible artists while attending them. I will also say that word-of-mouth is up there as well. There are very few degrees of separation in the art world, so it seems.

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