When a new hotel resort opens in Macau, we are all used to the usual array of shops, restaurants and bars. But when MGM COTAI opened its doors in February, it brought with it something very unique: a wide collection of contemporary art from some of the most talented artists in the greater China region, located all around the property for visitors and guests to enjoy and appreciate.
Connecting East and West and blending tradition with innovation, the MGM COTAI Art Collection features over 300 captivating and thought-provoking works integrated into MGM COTAI’s public spaces, including antique carpets dating from the Qing Dynasty, modern and contemporary Asian paintings and sculptures by renowned artists, freshly-commissioned works by local and regional rising talents, and large-scale installations.
Contributing artists include Hsiao Chin, Ung Si Meng, Xue Song, Gao XiaoWu, Lin Guocheng, Su Xing, Hung Yi, Chloe Ho, Hong Wei, Zheng Lu, Guan Yinfu, Yu Yang, Liang Jenhung, Eric Fok, Kum Chi Keung and Wang Kaifang.
To introduce the collection to art lovers from around the region, MGM recently hosted an art tour and symposium on redefining public art at the new MGM COTAI.
“MGM remains consistent to spearhead the unprecedented art movement in Macau, bringing the world to China and China to the world through a wide array of art and cultural endeavours,” noted Ms. Pansy Ho, Co-Chairperson & Executive Director of MGM China Holdings Limited. “It is our vision and ambition to showcase classic and contemporary Chinese masterpieces, offer multi-sensory immersive experiences, and most importantly, to stage art that is free and accessible to people from all walks of life.”
“With this collection, we are creating something truly unique for Macau to develop the city’s cultural tourism, and we have carefully considered every detail in order to create a cultural experience that is surprising, striking and fun for our guests and local visitors to enjoy,” Ms. Ho added.
Also present at the symposium was Mr. Calvin Hui, Co- Founder and Artistic Director of 3812 Gallery in Hong Kong and the curator of The Chairman’s Collection, an exclusive collection of 40 artworks by celebrated modern and contemporary Asian artists.
“Ms Pansy Ho appointed me as the curator and art consultant for this project. She had a mission of building an art collection, on one hand for this property, but also as a corporate statement to promote art and culture in Macau and China,” noted Calvin when we spoke with him at the Symposium. “I have worked with her on several projects over the past few years so we knew each other quite well. It’s very important to have a shared vision and shared passion with each other.”
“From the very beginning when we started to build The Chairman’s Collection, the idea was to build a very, very high end art collection for this project,” adds Hui.
The overarching theme of The Chairman’s Collection is ‘A World Linked Through Art’. Juxtaposing East and West as well as tradition and innovation, the collection encompasses masterworks by artists including Hsiao Chin, Liu Dan, Liu Kuosung, Lin Guocheng, Xue Song, Xia Xiaowan and Zheng Lu.
One of the starring pieces of the Chairman’s Collection is Dancing Light 2016, by renowned Chinese abstract artist Hsiao Chin, displayed prominently behind the reception desk in the main hotel lobby.
“The goal of the collection is to make art accessible to the public. It’s about nurturing, inspiring, provoking and enhancing the appreciation of art, to reflect on how we see the world, and how the artists respond,” offers the curator. “I hope that when people see the artworks, it will trigger their imagination, and help them to rethink how artwork relates to their current state of living.
“Artists make use of their artwork to deliver some messages or respond to our times, so I hope this will also give the artists an opportunity to interact with the audience,” he adds.
In putting together the collection, Calvin’s first task was to decide which artists to approach and whose work best reflected the company’s mission and vision.
“What I admire about this group of artists is that they respect their traditions and culture, they understand their history, but they also try very hard to develop a brand new language,” comments the curator.
“I have to say that contemporary art is a western concept. When we talk about contemporary art, it’s always about breaking through boundaries or redefining the status quo, or creating something new,” he explains.
“But I think for Chinese culture, when we talk about oriental aesthetic, we have a long tradition. And our tradition is to build upon traditions, and move forward with it. Underneath these traditions are our cultural values, developed for thousands of years,” Calvin continues.
“We totally understand the excellent craftsmanship and traditions of the past, but then you have to make it relevant to where we are now. That’s the message that we want: to bridge the past and future, east and west, tradition and innovation. So this was the mission I discussed with the artists.”
And while he is very pleased with the final outcome, curating an art collection for a public space like a large-scale hotel resort certainly presented a range of unusual challenges for the curator.
“Ultimately, it’s not just about the art pieces. It’s about a holistic approach to how to present the visuals, architecture, interior design, Feng Shui and also the art pieces. It involved a lot of coordination with the design and project teams as well, and we had to take into consideration many operational and technical issues,” Calvin reflects.
“A lot of the team mates are from different backgrounds and different countries, so it takes time to understand each other, especially when I’m talking about artwork with strong oriental aesthetic and spirit. But we had a very systematic approach to working together and it was a very enjoyable process.”
As we walked around the property with the curator on the day of the Symposium, it was clear that he feels all the hard work has been very much worthwhile.
“I feel very proud and I need to congratulate the artists because they have done a great job. I see the uniqueness of this collection. Every single piece is special, but in some way deep down inside in terms of the concept behind and the artistic presentation, you can see the common link.”
At the heart of the new MGM COTAI property is the Spectacle, spanning 8,100m2 and utilizing 25 LED walls in a 4-storey high atrium space. This impressive high tech art display was created by American firm Obscura Digital. Creating the project involved around 100 artists, designers, filmmakers, editors, and production crew, working for around two and a half years, led by Associate Creative Director at the company Ms. Michelle Grenier.
“We have had a really incredible, very collaborative client relationship with MGM,” explained the Creative Director of Digital Art at Spectacle, when we spoke with her on the side lines of the Art Symposium. “We were given certain parameters, but also invited in a very broad way to come up with the creative themes and concepts. The main directive was that MGM didn’t want it to be just wallpaper. It needed to be something with substance that would move people and reach people on an emotional level, that they could take away with them.”
The creative process began in August 2015, starting with research about Macau and China, to give the design team a sense of context. And early on, some clear themes emerged.
“In our very first creative meeting we discussed animals and wildlife. MGM has a relationship with lions and China with pandas, and we had done some previous work with endangered species,” notes Michelle. “So from there, once we had established that overarching theme, a lot of pieces started falling into place, which were really fun to develop”.
In total, 27 pieces of content were created using a range of different approaches. Three pieces are completely computer graphic simulations, or generative designs which are constantly changing and never the same. Meanwhile, other content required practical shoots of landscapes, world heritage sites and cultural festivals.
“We spent a month in the field touring around rural areas and finding remarkable landscapes. We did five different on location shoots and were the first to capture these places in 8K resolution,” notes Michelle.
The locations featured include the spectacular limestone peaks around Yangshuo and Guilin, as well as the area’s famous cormorant fisherman; the beautiful canola fields of Luoping County and terraced rice fields of Yuanyang County in Yunnan Province; and the magnificent Avatar Mountains of Zhangjiajie National Forest Park in Hunan Province.
“We had all kinds of challenges but it was also absolutely beautiful. The water splashing festival in Xishuangbanna was really amazing,” recalls Grenier. “There were thousands of people and we were the only westerners, so of course they targeted us and blasted us with water, but we had these incredibly expensive cameras with water casing, and it was well over 35 degrees Celcius. But I think everyone on the team considers it one of their all-time most memorable shoots.”
The biggest challenge however was obtaining the resolution quality needed for such a huge display, and pioneering some very cutting edge camera technology.
“This is one of the biggest digital art installations in the world, with an array of 25 different sized, large scale digital screens with an average of 6-8K resolution,” comments the Creative Director. “We used special processing treatments to explore different ways of perceiving reality, cutting edge cameras, drones, microscopy, slow motion and time lapse. For the Fluid Dynamics content, we built physical water tanks to represent each of the 25 screens, and filmed colourful inks moving through the liquid.”
The end result is a kaleidoscopic celebration of culture, diversity and natural beauty, and an immersive experience with themes of wildlife, language and society entitled “Windows of the World.”
And now that it is complete, Grenier sees great potential to continue adding to the content in the future.
“Especially the ways in which we want to collaborate with other artists. It’s our hope that artists will be intrigued and either want to put their existing work on the screens, or create original digital art that’s directly inspired by the displays,” she says. “We are particularly interested in the potential of generative, interactive content where the space becomes increasingly alive and sentient, changing and adapting to the environment and inputs.”
And when visitors enjoy the Spectacle, what does she hope they will take away from the experience?
“National Geographic’s motto was ‘inspiring people to care about the planet’, so that’s very much where I’m coming from. We are trying to inspire a sense of ecological consciousness, which is an issue very near and dear to my heart.”
Xue Song - Eight Views of Macau
Xue Song, a distinctive artist who uses fire and ash as a central aspect of his work as a reminder of fate and a symbol of rebirth, talks about his inspirations for Eight Views of Macau.
When I created this work, I wanted to do something about the attractions of Macau. I came three times to the city for research and went to libraries and the major tourist sites, and after I had the idea of creating Eight Views of Macau, based on the space that the artwork occupies in the hotel. At first I had more than eight, and it was difficult to choose, but ultimately I thought these were the most iconic views to represent.
I use collage as a language for my artwork because in the 1990’s my workshop was burnt in a fire and at that time I decided to use the pieces of material from the ashes to create new artwork. This current artwork is made up of over 30,000 fragments of photographs, including from hundreds of history books, stamps and other printed matter, and every one of the 30,000 pieces has also been charred and burnt, based on the process that all started with the accident years ago. The pieces are like a kind of memorabilia of past events. In total, I used of 60 kilograms of material to make up the artwork and it took around half a year to finish.
Whether I’m creating for an exhibition or a space in a hotel, the creative process is the basically the same, but I think this piece of work will be seen by many more people given its location. I want my artwork to be a bridge between the audience and Macau. And I hope that people will have a greater appreciation for Macau and its history when they look at this work.
Chloe Ho - Mountain Beauty / Seasons of Serenity
Known for experimenting with non-traditional mediums such as coffee, Hong Kong ink artist Chloe Ho explores the relationship between Tria Spa and her artwork.
As my work is on display in Tria Spa, I really wanted to do something beautiful, in keeping with the space, and something that helped define the space. The subject matter is of course affected by the surroundings, so that definitely gave me a sense of where I wanted to go aesthetically and thematically with the work. I wanted the figure to really have a flow, because the space in the Spa is very circular, so I didn’t want any hard lines or anything that was too angular. I wanted it to feel almost sculptural, like the rest of the space, so the location chosen for my work really affected it quite a bit.
As for the medium, I’ve been combining traditional and non-traditional mediums for years, in particular ink and coffee, and MGM saw my work and requested that style as they felt it worked very well for the space, so it was actually quite a happy marriage.
It is really a wonderful privilege to have this kind of platform. I’m thrilled that the collection is devoted to Chinese artists. I have an intersectional identity, my father is Chinese and my mother is American, and I’ve lived in Hong Kong most of my life, so I’m very glad to be included.
I think what’s so powerful about this collection is that each of us is a contemporary Chinese artist, but each of us is very different and speaking with a very individual and distinct voice. It’s exciting because it will encourage more people to have Chinese art collections. And because it’s so rich, a Chinese collection can encompass everything.
Hong Wei - Allegory of Balance - 1
Working and living in Beijing and New York, Hong Wei is a sculptor whose artworks reshape classic aesthetic through geometric and abstract forms. With his pieces displayed in numerous locations, including the National Art Museum of China, the Louvre, Hong Wei shares about his work displayed at MGM COTAI.
My work is made from porcelain and stainless steel, which stem from different periods of human civilization. Porcelain comes from ancient high temperature firing techniques, while the cold clear surface of hand-rolled stainless steel clearly reflects our present state of existence. The porcelain part refers to distant history and stainless steel is more industrial that we can feel here in the now, so it’s a combination of the past and the present, clear and unclear.
In this piece, there are 12 different objects and nine of them are made from porcelain. I fired at least 30 different objects, because the firing is very difficult and hard to control. For the stainless steel, it is hand-rolled, because I can’t use a cast due to the shrinkage that occurs, and the two parts wouldn’t fit together flush.
The work here relates to Chinese culture, but when it’s located in MGM COTAI, it has a sense of connection with the west, so it suits my work. The ceramic relates to Chinese culture and the stainless steel is more industrial and relates to western culture, so it’s Chinese but still belongs to the world.
I think art belongs to the public. Most of my work is in museums, so here in the hotel it is still public. Art is not finished until it is shared with others, so I think it’s a great place to be.
Eric Fok - 1557 Carrack / Paradīsus - 1557
Born in Macau, Eric Fok graduated from Macao Polytechnic Institute majoring in Visual Arts, and is one of the local contributors to The Chairman’s Collection. His artwork directly links The Chairman’s Collection back to the old Macau.
I wanted to draw something related to Macau’s colonial past and the combination of western and oriental culture, to show how the Portuguese travelled here via Africa, Goa and Malacca. I included images of Camoes, an important Portuguese poet, the Portuguese coat of arms which was on my ID card when I was young, and the city of Belem where the explorers left from in Portugal, which still exists today and is the link between the explorers and the colonies they settled.
Now when we travel, we can reach many places in just a few hours, but back then people travelled for such a long time. I want people to see how Macau and some of these famous places looked hundreds of years ago, a link back to the past. More and more people are starting to know about Macau now, but they only really know it as a casino city, which is important, but I want people to know more about Macau’s history as a trading hub too.
DRAGON OF HEAVEN
Qianlong period (1736-1795)
Leading the MGM COTAI Art Collection are 28 Chinese imperial carpets from the 18th and 19th centuries, that are being exhibited in Asia for the first time. Having once adorned the Forbidden City in Beijing during the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), these rare and precious carpets were both decorative and symbolic, possessing rich historical and cultural significance.
A key highlight from the collection is Dragon of Heaven from the Qianlong period (1736-1795) of the Qing Dynasty. Made for the Palace of Tranquility and Longevity, the elements composing this carpet (dragons, flowers and clouds) are all in perfect balance, conveying a sense of harmony that connects with the role of the Emperor – to be the mediator between Earth and Heaven and to maintain a harmonious society under his rule.
Very few of the imperial carpets that used to adorn the Forbidden City’s vast pavilions have been seen publicly – according to archives, no more than 300 imperial silk and metal carpets are known to exist today, making the collection ever more rare and valuable. A huge calligraphy by the highly-respected local calligrapher Ung Si Meng is also on display, telling stories of the Forbidden City alongside the imperial carpets.