WITH WHITE DROP SHEETS on the floor, lots of art materials, a few blue rubbish bins and ethereal papier mâché constructions rising more than two metres tall, the hotel lobby of The Opposite House in Beijing last August was a far cry from the typical flower-bouquets-and-chandelier fixtures usually greeting hotel visitors.
Amidst what would eventually become eight red sculptures with oversized heads resting gently atop spindly legs, the Australian artist Luke Chiswell was hard at work, though also happy to stop for a drink with guests to discuss his art pieces and explain his creative process.
Chiswell was the hotel’s first artist in residence in a programme in collaboration with the Beijing-based Red Gate Gallery that will continue later this year with a new artist whose name has yet to be announced. When The Opposite House opened in 2008, in Beijing’s Sanlitun district, it was at the forefront of a new trend of including contemporary art in hotels. More contemporary hotels have opened in China’s hotspots since then, but art continues to be a cornerstone DNA for The Opposite House.
Designed by Japanese avant-garde architect Kengo Kuma and edgy Shanghai-based designers Neri and Hu, the hotel is owned and operated by Swire properties, the same group behind the adjacent Village at Sanlitun. The Opposite House aims for a “spatial experience” of light and space with seamlessly flowing meeting spaces in the minimalist lobby anchored by two slightly raised central stages, conceived as exhibition spaces.
The hotel is an integral part of Taikoo Li, a large shopping destination, so the designers peppered the areas open to hotel guests and shoppers alike with a few contemporary art pieces by Chinese artists such as Li Xiao Feng and Wang Jin, all featuring “wearable art” or clothing in various mediums, from shattered antique blue and white Ming and Qing porcelain to PVC plastic embroidered with coloured fishing wires.
Building on its arty contemporary interior design, The Opposite House quickly gained a reputation as a strong supporter of the local art scene, partnering with various art galleries to host exhibitions in the open atrium, focusing on showcasing Chinese artists.
But as it nears its 10th-year anniversary, the hotel’s management has been reviewing that approach, “a lot of hotels have been integrating contemporary art in their design; it’s fairly easy to commission someone to put in an exhibition in the hotel. Now that we’re getting a bit older and wiser, we’ve started to ask ourselves what the art means to the hotel, and how we can remain authentic,” says Mark Passmore, General Manager of The Opposite House.
“So around two years ago we started to change our art programme and took on a few different directions: One was to incorporate art into the external facade of the hotel; the second was to launch this artist-in-residence programme” he adds.
In 2016, the hotel invited acclaimed Australian artist Lisa Roet to install a 14-metre-tall inflatable sculpture of a golden snub-nosed monkey on its green geometric facade, as though it was climbing the hotel building and looking down on passers-by. The artwork aimed to highlight the plight of the rare species, which is native to the forest region along the China-Myanmar border and has been disappearing because of rapid deforestation, explains Passmore, adding the hotel plans to continue “inviting international artists who have been to China before or who have a link to it, to reinterpret Chinese art from a foreign perspective.”
For its 10th-year anniversary, the hotel is planning to reorganize the atrium space to offer even more flexibility when presenting art and it has reached out to art schools across China to find an art curator for a one-year placement. “That young curator will work with the local community to curate our art programme for the year; instead of working with a couple of art galleries, we will work with all galleries in Beijing which will create a richer visual program.
“Ten years ago when you talked about Chinese art it was always from an art investment perspective, but in the last few years, we feel people here have become genuinely interested in art and so we want to boost the education programming of the hotel. We’ll be able to do talks and art workshops,” Passmore says, adding “It’s really not about the monetary aspect—if people are interested in buying the work, that’s up to them, but the programme is not there to make money but to reinforce our positioning.”
“The Opposite Hotel is not about art for art’s sake, but it is really art as part of our identity,” he adds.
The Opposite House lobby, located at Taikoo Li Sanlitun North, No. 11 Sanlitun Road, Chaoyang District, Beijing, hosts the Yang House, a “VIRTUAL LANDSCAPE” teahouse from Sept 20th to 25th, during Design China Beijing and Beijing Design Week. This “Virtual Landscape” is accomplished through the installation of a virtual bamboo forest. Alongside this, armchairs and a tea table in the center of the space will create a traditional teahouse.