AS the hospitality industry becomes increasingly competitive, more and more luxury hotels are not satisfied with just offering guests the likes of super-soft pillows and personalized service.
In addition to create comforts, they aim to take the experience of staying there to a higher cultural — and perhaps spiritual and emotional — level through art.
The carpet guests walk on, the chandeliers hanging in the lobby and the sculpture beside check-in counter are likely to be original works by famous artists valued at many thousands — even millions — of dollars.
And to burnish their cultural credentials even further, some hotels open art galleries on their premises.
“A hotel is like a micro society, containing every aspects of a person’s daily life,” says Peter Clarke, general manager at the Pudong Shangri-La, East Shanghai.
“We like art to be involved in our operations, and get art to blend into our lives as well,” adds Clarke.
Art is also considered by many hotels as a direct and vivid way of expressing a city’s unique character and charisma to help create a deep impression for guests.
Approaches may vary considerably, though.
The Grand Kempinski Hotel Shanghai displays abstract and modern art to complement the modern — indeed futuristic — skyline and commercial buzz of Lujiazui, Pudong New Area, explains general manager Henk Meyknecht.
In contrast, the Four Seasons Hotel Pudong, Shanghai, looks back to the city’s past, decorated with a strong Art Deco feel, paying homage to the 1920s and 1930s — often regarded as a golden age of the city.
Further afield, the Shangri-La Hotel, Chengdu, in the capital of Sichuan Province, has contemporary art pieces by nine Sichuan artists.
Highlights include work by the world-famous Zhou Chunya, depicting the rural landscapes of southwest China and its famous inhabitant — the giant panda.
And the art is often not just for decoration, with hotels making efforts to enhance guests’ experiences of the works.
The Pudong Shangri-La offers complimentary art tours with explanations of the context and meaning of works.
The hotel, which stands by the Huangpu River, also makes the most of its location to extend its art tour to the Bund.
Its executive lounge has a 180-degree view of the city’s famous waterfront, from where guests can enjoy a 30-minute bird’s-eye-view architectural tour, with an expert sharing their knowledge about the Bund’s historic landmarks.
The Pudong Shangri-La also has its own gallery, with new exhibitions opening every two to three months.
As well as providing an artistic feast for the eyes, some hotels think of the stomach too, combining art with dining.
The Four Seasons Hotel Pudong offered Pop Art on a plate with a menu inspired by an exhibition of Andy Warhol’s work held in Shanghai two years ago.
And the Pudong Shangri-La hopes to make a big, ahem, impression with an afternoon tea option inspired by Vincent van Gogh, with desserts and pastries influenced by his signature “Sunflowers” works.
This week we introduce some of China’s artiest hotels, highlighting their signature works; everything from Chinese post-modernism to Japanese minimalism; from sculpture and oil paintings to stainless steel installations and photography.
The Park Hyatt Shanghai takes a local and global perspective, inviting artists both domestic and from around the world to express their impressions of the hotel and the city.
Park Hyatt Shanghai
Address: 100 Century Avenue
Location: 1/F (at hotel entrance)
The hotel’s most famous work and part of Chinese artist Gao Xiaowu’s “Standard Age” series. This bronze relief work features three Chinese people bowing, with fixed smiles, which some critics have seen as a comment on a standardized consumer society.
Location: 85/F (by the hotel swimming pool)
Egg-shaped fiberglass works by Japanese artist Shintaro Otsuka, that reflects on the pool’s surface, creating a symmetry.
Location: 87/F (at the entrance of the fine dining restaurant)
This is created by Chinese artist Xie Aige, known for her combination of ideals and reality inspired by her childhood memories of rural China. This fiberglass work suggests that courtesy is the inseparable companion of virtue, according to some critics.
Location: 1/F (close to reception)
A night view of the Bund by Paul Ching, who studied in China and made his name in New York. He is known for street scenes, often illuminated by romantic moonlight or an ominous glow.
The Shangri-La Hotel Chengdu has a collection of pieces by nine Sichuan contemporary artists, whose work is inspired by the landscape of southwest China and its world-famous local resident — the giant panda.
Shangri-La Hotel Chengdu
Address: 9 Bingjiang Rd E., Chengdu, Sichuan Province
“The Giant Panda”
Location: 2/F (in the grand ballroom foyer)
This work by avant-garde artist Guo Wei — best known for her portrayals of children — features a young girl who dons a panda mask to play with animals in a tree.
Location: 2/F (on the wall behind the front desk)
This work by renowned painter Zhou Chunya, who trained in Germany, depicts the spring scenery of the city, when Chengdu’s nearby mountains and plains are covered with bright pink peach blossom.
China in the frame
The Pudong Shangri-La, East Shanghai collects around 20 original works and made a set of postcards featuring some to give to guests.
Pudong Shangri-La, East Shanghai
Address: 33 Fucheng Rd
“Secrets des Cieux”
Medium : Oil
Location : 1/F, River Wing (at the entrance of the hotel’s Chinese restaurant)
More than 2 meters long and with a predominantly yellow palette, “Secrets des Cieux” was painted in 1989 by Chu Teh-Chun, who was the first Chinese artist to be admitted into Academy of Fine Arts in France. Chu, who died last year, was renowned for a pioneering style combining traditional Chinese painting techniques with Western abstract art. His “Lumiere Eternelle” was sold in 2012 for HK$2.4 million.
Location: 1/F, River Wing (close to reception)
At almost 5 meters long, this work by Chinese artist Yang Jiusheng was inspired, appropriately enough, by the legend of Shangri-La — a place where people do not grow old.
Yang exaggerates the Chinese characters chang shou (长寿) — which mean longevity — in an artistic way but one that still fundamentally follows official script. This is a calligraphy style created in the late Warring States period (475-221 BC) featuring angular strokes. Yang has also written a Chinese poem to complement the characters, giving the artist’s thoughts on longevity. These include nurturing the spirit and living in peace and comfort in auspicious surroundings.
A hand-made glass tree designed by artist Jiang Hai on the grand staircase, together with a backdrop behind the front desk by George Grigorian, reflect the flow of the nearby Huangpu River.
Grand Kempinski Hotel Shanghai
Address: 1288 Lujiazui Ring Rd
A suspended sculpture composed of 1,000 intricate leafed metal strips in the center of the lobby is designed by Japanese company Studio Sawada Design, expresses the beauty of minimalism, with a touch of Zen. Natural light creates a shimmering effect.