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The art in travel

By Nick Easen for CNN

"Platform for Art" on London's Underground is just one project that tries to improve travel spaces.
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Arts, Culture and Entertainment

LONDON, England (CNN) -- Watch "The Terminal" with Tom Hanks and what is memorable about this movie? More to the point, what is not memorable? For some it is the airport interior.

The film set, and backdrops to the movie, were designed to create just that -- a forgettable, efficient and characterless human space, so typical of those associated with travel.

Over time, business and leisure spaces have evolved to cater for mass transport.

Travel has changed from being a luxurious pursuit to a ubiquitous one, while hotel interiors, train stations and airports have become more functional in appearance.

However, some in the industry are changing that, by trying to jazz up our public spaces -- not with the excessive use of modern materials, such as marble, glass and wood or with minimalist designs -- but with pieces of art.

"It brings a completely unique feel to the place and a wonderful sense of homeliness," Peter MacCann of the Merrion Hotel in Dublin told CNN.

The hotel has one of the largest collections of private art in Ireland on display -- 150 pieces in total.

"A lot of hotels have art, we even commission artists to do pieces. They have certainly transformed some of our rooms," MacCann says.

The Hotel Martinez in Cannes, France, has a collection of original lithography from Picasso, as well as pieces from Raoul, Dufy, Stael and Matisse.

If you check into the Mandarin Oriental hotel in New York you can download Vincent Van Gogh's paintings on to your 42-inch plasma television screen, as well as other images from famous artists.

And the Beau-Rivage Palace, Lausanne, Switzerland displays the collection of the hotel's original shareholder -- Edouard Sandoz of pharmaceutical fame, who was also a well-known artist.

One of Australia's most famous paintings hangs in the Young & Jackson Hotel in Melbourne. "Chloe," a 19th Century French painting of a nude, had to me moved to the National Gallery of Victoria when the hotel was refurbished, due to its cultural value.

Focus on something different

The audience is not the traditional art-loving type who attends a gallery, but the public at large.

Hotels are not the only travel spaces using art to humanize spaces. Train stations are also realizing the power of our creative endeavors and the effects they have on people.

"Pretty much every metro system seems to have some kind of art program, whether it is commissioning permanent or temporary projects," says Tamsin Dillon, curator for London Underground's project "Platform for Art."

"The aim is to enhance the environment for our customers and to improve the journey experience. We are giving travelers something different to focus upon on their journeys -- and the response has been immensely positive."

London Underground's "Platform for Art, which has been running since 2000, now encompasses other creative people from local communities adjacent to stations, as well schools and staff who are inspired to join in.

"Artists are very positive about the opportunity to present work in this non-gallery context," Dillon says.

"They are interested in responding to this space and the very different -- and huge -- audience compared to that which would see their work in an art gallery."

The difficulty for all these public spaces is security and the fear of damage. At the Merrion Hotel and at London Underground stations, closed circuit televisions monitor the works of art.

"The problem is people bump in to them. In seven years two have been damaged," MacCann says.

"Have you noticed that galleries are cool? It is to preserve the paintings. Here in the hotel the warmth from the log fires and the heating can crack the frames."

Three months ago the glass casing on "Chloe" was also damaged during an incident at the Young and Jackson Hotel, leaving the famous nude with a small scratch and tiny puncture.

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