Hotels: Art attack

29 Nov 2017 by Valerian Ho
Park Hotel Tokyo artwork

The days of hanging a nondescript landscape print in each guestroom are over. Many luxury hotels now pay serious attention to art, both as a way to enhance the guest experience and in order to create their own personal identity – a means of standing out from the crowd. From massive collections of fine art to artist-in-residence programmes, spending time in one of the following properties is sure to stimulate your creativity.

Treasure houses

These days it’s not unusual for luxury hotels to boast art collections that would have a gallery director hissing with envy. In such properties, curated collections of unique works adorn the walls from lobby to corridor to room. Palace Hotel Tokyo’s owner sank a seven-figure sum in US dollars into its 1,000-plus art pieces. “For some years now, it’s been evident that sophisticated travellers not only seek encounters with art during their hotel stays, but expect it. So our investment in putting together a well-curated, million-dollar collection was an instinctive one, as part of the evolution of our brand,” says Masaru Watanabe, the hotel’s executive director and general manager. “We set out to cater to the modern luxury traveller. Investing in quality art seemed like a natural part of the process.”

In other cases, the drive for art collections comes from passionate owners. George Wong, owner of Hotel Éclat Beijing (part of the Small Luxury Hotels of the World group) is one such example. His desire to share his love of art with guests has led to a collection of original sculptures and paintings by Salvador Dali, Andy Warhol and Pierre Matter, as well as Chinese masters Gao Xiao Wu and Zou Liang. Wong intends to continue growing the collection, with a particular emphasis on supporting up-and-coming Chinese artists.

Sofitel Bangkok Sukhumvit

For Wyndham’s TRYP Fortitude Valley Hotel in Brisbane, Wyndham’s president and managing director Barry Robinson, and ex-owner Jay McPhee, wanted to reference the local district through artistic elements. They decided on a “street art” concept, in part as a testament to the building’s history as an underground street art site, but also to create an environment that feels like the city itself. The hotel now features murals and artworks by world-renowned street artists including Rone, Beastman, Fintan Magee and Numskull.

A golden hippo perched on top of the QT Museum Wellington (formerly the Museum Art Hotel) signals the artistic endeavours of this New Zealand property. In fact, the hotel boasts New Zealand’s largest privately owned art collection. Many of the works are from local artists, with a few select pieces from farther afield. The result is an explosion of colour and texture, featuring a mix of high- and lowbrow works that offers something for everyone.

Singular attractions

Other properties focus less on large collections, preferring to put the spotlight on a few stunning showpieces. Vietnam’s The Reverie Saigon, for example, showcases a few eclectic works: in the lobby stands a custom-made, emerald-green Baldi Monumental clock that’s three metres high and weighs nearly 1,000kg; while outside La Scala ballroom is a 19th-century Bechstein grand piano, beautifully refinished with a mosaic veneer of malachite stone and chiselled bronze decoration. “The hotel ownership chose these art pieces with the clear intention of stimulating our visitors’ senses,” says general manager Kai Speth. “They are masterpieces specially developed for the hotel by these iconic design brands. They draw attention.”

The Reverie Saigon lobby

When it comes to attention-grabbing art, sometimes bigger is better. If you check in to The Garden Hotel Guangzhou, you’ll be faced with an awe-inspiring golden fresco. More than 30 artists took seven months to create the 24×6-metre mural in gold foil and handcrafted marble, which depicts scenes from the classic Chinese novel Dream of the Red Chamber. Meanwhile, at Island Shangri-La, Hong Kong the atrium boasts a massive 16-storey Chinese landscape painting: The Great Motherland of China. The 51-metre masterpiece comprises 250 panels of Chinese silk and was created by 40 artists from the Beijing Arts and Crafts Research Institute. The iconic piece sweeps across the country from Tibet to the Yellow Sea, depicting renowned landmarks include the Great Wall, Huangguoshu Waterfalls, and the mountain pathways that weave their way through the cliffs of Sichuan and Taishan.

Exhibitions and galleries

With eclectic lobby furnishings (such as a throne chair shaped like a golden hand) and graffiti on its exterior façade, boutique property J Plus by YOO in Hong Kong’s Causeway Bay has always been clear about its artistic intentions. The Philippe Starck-designed property has further ramped up its artistic credentials with a series of exhibition collaborations. This month, guests can enjoy the “Menagerie” exhibition, which “invites art enthusiasts to step into a world of fantasy and illusion in an exciting new collaboration with Van Rensburg Galleries”. General manager Vivian Chau says, “We are thrilled to welcome the hotel’s eighth pop-up exhibition. Since 2014 we have been actively working with local and international artists, as well as galleries such as FinDAC and Cat Street Gallery to bring a dynamic element to the hotel.”

Another hotel in the city, The Park Lane Hong Kong a Pullman Hotel, was the first Pullman hotel in the world to debut the “Artist Playground” after its renovation last year. Located in the cool Ebb & Flow lobby lounge, the Artist Playground hosts a rotating exhibition of contemporary paintings from a new generation of local and international artists. This month, you can enjoy a millennial take on daily life and social issues through the works of Liane Chu, Jennifer Chow and Ticko Liu.

The Sofitel Bangkok Sukhumvit, Thailand has taken this theme one step further: “Some hotels put art in the lobby, or in various public spaces within the hotel, but they don’t create or offer a space strictly for art,” says Martin Gerlier, curator of the hotel’s dedicated S Gallery. The professional art advisor spent 12 years travelling the world sourcing pieces for private collectors before Sofitel came calling, and now oversees a new exhibition every two months, featuring works by French and Thai painters, photographers, sculptors and installation artists. “Here it is a proper art gallery, and it’s been incorporated into the city’s art scene. It’s on the official Bangkok Art Map,” he adds.

In Australia, the Hyatt Regency Sydney has teamed up with Canon Australia to launch “The Gallery”. Located in the hotel’s heritage wing, the rotating photographic exhibition displays images from a variety of genres such as fashion, fine art, sports, conservation and landscapes. Guests are able to browse the stunning photography complemented by the picturesque backdrop of Darling Harbour. “Canon is focused on supporting professional photographers and helping them showcase their work. By partnering with Hyatt Regency Sydney and launching ‘The Gallery’ we are able to celebrate photographers’ achievements more broadly and inspire others,” says Jason McLean, director in consumer imaging of Canon Australia. A portion of sales goes to charity.

Hullet House, Hong Kong

Artists in residence

Perhaps flooding the corridors with Monets, or featuring huge sculptures in the lobby is too passive: while dedicated art enthusiasts might immerse themselves in the pieces, for many a quick glance is all they get. A growing number of hotels are trying to bridge this gap and bring art to life by connecting guests to the artists in question, in the process helping to foster emerging talent. The Peninsula, Beijing’s “Artist in Residence” programme provides talented young individuals with an opportunity to create and showcase their work in the hotel. The programme was first launched in 2014 as part of the hotel’s landmark renovation, which included the development of an artist studio space on the 14th floor in addition to a public gallery area for displaying artwork. Guests not only get access to the studio, but also have the opportunity to meet the resident artist there, where they can discuss their art and the creative process. According to general manager Vincent Pimont, “guests think it is very nice to have a gallery in-house because it adds more experience to their stay. They can see local art or meet local artists without going to the art district. Some of our guests are keen to know more about these artists and even bring their artworks home.”

The Vagabond Club in Singapore also has an Artist-in-Residence programme. Artists from all over the world can apply for a residency ranging from a weekend to two weeks. This can include writers, poets, musicians or dance performers, who then mingle with guests and perform at The Salon. Previous artists include DJs, couture designers, celebrity chefs, mixologists and filmmakers.

Park Hotel Tokyo

Artistic surrounds

Transforming art into an experience rather than a simple decoration is possible by creating a fully realised art-themed room. The Park Hotel Tokyo has 31 “artist rooms” that contain unique designs by artists who painted directly on the walls and ceilings, using styles including sumi (Japanese inkbrush painting), acrylic paints, oil paints and foils. The inspiration for these rooms ranged from “sumo” and “zen” to “Mount Fuji”. The shortest creation took just five days to complete, while the longest took a whopping 454 days.

A number of hotels in Hong Kong also offer art-themed rooms. For a wacky display of Chinese pop art, including playful portraits of Chairman Mao and contemporary sculptures, try the 82 sqm Deep Water Bay Suite at Hullet House. Alternatively, enjoy a collection of scenes from Hong Kong in the 1950s and 60s at The Pottinger Hong Kong, where each room highlights the work of Fan Ho.

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