Art Hotels: El Casco in Bariloche, Argentina

At this Bariloche hotel, the art is front and center.

Art Hotels: El Casco in Bariloche, Argentina

Photos courtesy of El Casco Art Hotel

It was purely by chance that I’d landed in the Mario Grandi room. Or maybe someone had tipped off the hotel about my artistic tastes. Grandi is one of Argentina’s masters of pastel, and his languorous beauties evoke the figures of Modigliani, the Italian artist whose work hangs above my desk at home. On one wall in my hotel room was Grandi’s Baile, in which a couple dance, he faceless in a rakish scarf and a mustard-color vest, she in a pink gown, a bittersweet expression playing across her face. Opposite the bed was Compadrito, a lonely guy nursing a cup of coffee, and Vanidosa, a negligéed young thing admiring herself in a hand mirror. Inhabiting a room full of Grandi’s works reminded me just how soul-soothing it can be to live amidst art you love.

El Casco Art Hotel in Bariloche displays the passion of its owner, Ignacio (“Nacho”) Gutiérrez Zaldívar, who also owns the Zurbaran gallery in Buenos Aires. In the lounge, art books litter the tabletops and cram the bookshelves. Soft suedes and leathers in vanilla, caramel, and rust colors conspire to relax you, inviting you to admire the surroundings—sculptures from around the globe, paintings on every wall—as though in the living room of a worldly friend. When Zaldívar and his wife bought the lakefront property in Patagonia, they installed more than 300 works of art, worth some $6 million and all of it for sale, before opening in 2006.

In the hotel’s living and dining areas, sensual landscapes, nudes, and still lifes by Argentine painter Juan Lascano take center stage. The wine room is the domain of Ernesto Bertani, a Buenos Aires–based painter whose fabric-and-acrylic works are provocative meditations on love, power, corruption, and national identity. (Both artists are Zaldívar favorites, and he can arrange meetings with them for guests.) Outside, sculptures dot the manicured lawn. The four bronze ducks over by the hotel’s swimming pool? The work of contemporary Argentine sculptor Julio Domínguez. The chubby acrobats down by the shore? Cast in 1924 by Pablo Curatella Manes, when he was hanging out with Picasso in Paris.

It was just before I checked out when Oculta caught my eye. She was tall and skinny, and shrouded in white. She conjured dark, mazelike alleyways and scents of exotic spices. Marie Camdessus had sculpted her, the reception clerk informed me, and she was well beyond my budget. No matter: If I couldn’t take her home, she at least gave me an excuse to come back and visit.

El Casco Art Hotel Bariloche, 54/(0) 11-4815-6852, From $280.

For most of my career, I’ve worked as an editor, beginning at a little lifestyle magazine called InFashion and spending a few years at travel trades before landing at Gourmet in 1996. I spent 12 years there, ending as deputy editor, and had the pleasure of editing stories by David Foster Wallace, Gary Shteyngart, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Junot Diaz, Stacy Schiff, Richard Ford, Michael Lewis, Nina Teicholz, and many others.
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