A night with Andy Warhol: Oslo hotel The Thief takes art very seriously indeed

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

Antony Gormley greets you at the entrance and Julian Opie's in the lift… Jay Merrick checks in to the new hotel in the Norwegian capital.

Petter Stordalen, the 50-year-old Norwegian billionaire who zips around in a biofuel-powered Ferrari, has just opened a six-star hotel in Oslo that has dared to make art, rather than blinged-up luxury, its unique selling point. Art, as in the £1.7m Andy Warhol painting Ladies and Gentlemen, that hangs casually in the restaurant, just beyond the glass-walled wine cellar lined with backlit bottles of Dom Perignon champagne.

Warhol is the biggest name, but the public areas of this hotel carry the work of some of the most important names in contemporary art: Fiona Banner's pink-lettered, sub-pornographic text of Lawrence of Arabia – The Desert – for example; Tony Cragg's wryly brutish Subcommittee, a knobbly metal sculpture that weighs the best part of a ton; Niki de Saint Phalle's sinuous steel-and-polyester sculpture Le Grand Rossignol floats touchably in a plush sitting area – a snip at £560,000, if it were for sale.

These works have been loaned, as part of an ongoing arrangement, by the new Renzo Piano-designed Astrup Fearnley Museum of Art, 100m away from the hotel on a spit of land jutting into Oslo fjord. Seventy-five of the hotel's 119 rooms contain works by lesser-known, but notable artists, bringing the total worth of all the art in the hotel to £3m.

Welcome to The Thief. You can call a hotel that if you're a billionaire who started by selling strawberries outside your father's small grocery shop in the provincial, porcelain-making town of Porsgrunn. And if you got – or, rather, demanded – your first big business break in your twenties. Petter Stordalen turned up to an interview "nervous, dressed like a fake Marlboro Man", admitted he knew nothing about creating shopping malls, but talked himself into the managing director's job.

He rapidly became a millionaire, then moved into the hotel sector; at one point in the 1990s, he was buying them at the rate of one a fortnight. Today, he owns 170 hotels and is personally worth $1.2bn (£763m) according to the Forbes billionaire list. He despises the glinting, marbled luxury of ultra-premium hotels. When he recently stayed at the most exclusive new hotel in St Moritz, he was "treated like I was dust" because he wore jeans and a T-shirt rather than the default oligarch chic.

On a freezing, blade-bright day in Oslo, Stordalen's tightly-tailored, braid-lapelled jacket suggests a kind of New Romantic charisma. But his true characteristic is an intense, laser-like concentration – and bluntness. Samples: "Wealthy people don't even pay taxes. But everybody must pay taxes"; "It doesn't matter how rich you are, you know when you're being ripped off. Why should you pay $10 for a Coke from a minibar?"; "One day, I saw this Ross Bleckner painting. And I thought: all the paintings that I had of cows and shit can be taken away".

Stordalen's Damascene purchase was a work by Julian Opie – "and from that day, I only bought art because I liked it". At The Thief, Opie is going up in the world: the lifts are lined with high-res screens showing two of his animations.

But what has serious art like Opie's got to do with the horizontal slit of the fake fireplace in the ground-floor sitting room, and the decorative copper brogues and tomes about Chanel, pink Paris and Playboy bunnies on the tabletops? And what about the safely stylish Bryan Ferry-directed images of Roxy Music album covers in the second-floor meeting room?

Can the experience of art be truly engaging in a hotel where the least expensive room will cost you £200 a night, per person? And where, as Stordalen admits, many of the guests will be high-powered bankers and lawyers who may be more interested in the restaurant's beautifully-prepared, organically-produced cuisine.

The Oslo Suite, with its Peter Blake artwork installation, would set you back £2,800. For that, you get bedrooms, bathrooms, and adjoining units suitable for PAs. "I'm loving the way the bathroom comes out into the bedroom," murmurs a writer from Wallpaper* magazine.

Yet the potential for effective, engrossing art in hotels returns as you sip your vodka martini (made with ultra-clear ice chipped from chainsawed blocks). Here, you will find yourself studying Charlotte Thiis-Evensen's exquisitely unsettling slow-mo video installation showing three Somali Muslim girls playing with their veils.

This is a potentially risky 'hang' by Stordalen's internationally eminent curator, Sune Nordgren: "But if it starts discussions, then that's really good". He's prepped the staff with an explanation about the artist's intentions, in case they're questioned about the video by guests.

The positioning of key works has been taken very seriously. The layout of the reception area was changed to accommodate Richard Prince's towering lithograph The Horse Thief. In an earlier art experiment at another of Stordalen's hotels in Trondheim, the reception desk was moved and three pillars were added to hold a 6m-high piece by Alex Katz.

"If we didn't do that," says Stordalen, "we totally destroy the project. We can just get pictures from Ikea. You can't start it with a budget, a calculator. You have to start it with the heart." And a story: The Thief is named after Tjuvholmen, the tiny peninsula it shares with the Astrup Fearnley Museum. It's the place where the city's thieves were hanged in the 18th century.

In the same century, the writer Daniel Defoe declared: "Pleasure is a thief to business". At The Thief, business depends on a new fusion of pleasures. "The art here needs to be very obvious, and present," says Nordgren. "People who go to art galleries are a prepared audience. The challenge here is to work with an unprepared audience."

But in a 21st century dominated by kaleidoscopic churns of information and entertainment, are they really unprepared? In my room, I ponder an Albert Merz etching while checking out the treats drawer: Smile Lab's "fast and effective smile touch-ups"; Moods of Norway underwear, which "may lead to amazingly good times if used correctly"; the funky Yumaki toothbrush; and the Yarok Feed Your Do Styling Whip.

In 1890, the Norwegian novelist Knut Hamsun produced a novel, Hunger, which portrayed the wanderings, in Oslo, of a young man crazed by constantly changing obsessions – one of which was the idea of an electric hymnbook with glowing verses.

The Thief is, indeed, a kind of illuminated hymn to the religion of constant, and preferably unexpected, stimulation. And if the hotel's most expensive painting could speak, we would surely hear a replay of two of Warhol's most perceptive remarks: "Being good in business is the most fascinating kind of art"; "An artist is somebody who produces things that people don't need to have, but that he – for some reason – thinks it would be a good idea to give them".

On the pavement just outside the entrance to The Thief, Antony Gormley's cast-iron figure lies as if in prostrate prayer. It faces the docks and cement silos a kilometre away, across the pewter waves of the inlet – and also Mecca, I'm told. Petter Stordalen and Sune Nordgren are artful preachers in a church that is also a commercial product. And at The Thief, the line between the sacred and the profane, the iconic and the sybaritic, wavers with an intriguing ambiguity.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Sport
football
News
Tangerine Dream Edgar Froese
people
News
Rob Lowe
peopleRob Lowe hits out at Obama's snub of Benjamin Netanyahu
News
Davies (let) says: 'Everybody thought we were having an affair. It was never true!'
people'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'
Arts and Entertainment
Over their 20 years, the band has built a community of dedicated followers the world over
music
News
Staff assemble outside the old City Road offices in London
mediaThe stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century at Britain's youngest paper
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Life and Style
The Oliver twins, Philip and Andrew, at work creating the 'Dizzy' arcade-adventure games in 1988
techDocumentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Arts and Entertainment
Krall says: 'My hero player-singer is Elton John I used to listen to him as a child, every single record
music
Arts and Entertainment
The Wu-Tang Clan will sell only one copy of their album Once Upon A Time In Shaolin
musicWu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own only copies of their latest albums
News
i100
Environment
Number so freshwater mussels in Cumbria have plummeted from up to three million in the 20th century to 500,000
environment
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Old Royal Naval College: ORNC Visitor Experience Volunteer

    Unpaid voluntary work: Old Royal Naval College: Join our team of friendly volu...

    Recruitment Genius: Customer Service / Sales Assistant

    £8 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This airport parking organisation are looking...

    Recruitment Genius: PCV Bus Drivers

    £8 per hour: Recruitment Genius: Do you enjoy bus driving and are looking for ...

    Ashdown Group: IT Support Technician - York

    £18000 - £20000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: IT Support Technician - Y...

    Day In a Page

    Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

    What the six wise men told Tony Blair

    Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
    25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

    25 years of The Independent on Sunday

    The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
    Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

    Smash hit go under the hammer

    It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
    Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

    The geeks who rocked the world

    A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
    Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

    Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

    Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
    America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

    America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

    These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
    A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

    A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

    A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
    Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

    Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

    A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
    Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

    Growing mussels

    Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project
    Diana Krall: The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai

    Diana Krall interview

    The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai
    Pinstriped for action: A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter

    Pinstriped for action

    A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter
    Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: 'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'

    Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: How we met

    'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef serves up his favourite Japanese dishes

    Bill Granger's Japanese recipes

    Stock up on mirin, soy and miso and you have the makings of everyday Japanese cuisine
    Michael Calvin: How we need more Eric Cantonas to knock some sense into us

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    How we need more Eric Cantonas to knock some sense into us