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Art in Asia in Action

What Hotels Are Doing to Help Guests Onward and Upward
All over Asia, from Bali to Tokyo, it’s onward and upward with the arts as hotels deepen channels between their guests’ accommodation and their access to art.
Today, hotels across Asia are investing big money in art collections; they’re dispatching guests into the environs with knowing guides of the local art scene; and they’re setting up easels for fledgling artists to ply their craft worlds away from what’s familiar. In the meantime, hotels are rewriting the rules of engagement between their guests and local attractions.
“Churches, temples, pagodas, museums, gardens, and so on, yes, of course,” said John Gardner, general manager of the Caravelle Hotel in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. “But more and more, we are finding that guests want a keener sense of place than you can get from standing before an altar of religious statuary, and there’s no better way to tunnel toward the soul of a place than through its art.”

This fall, the Caravelle Hotel is partnering with a local art guide to roll out an art tour of Ho Chi Minh City, from the arrival of the putative missionaries in the 17th Century through the rise of socialist realism and today’s avant garde movements. Sophie Hughes, a 30-year-old UK native who’ll lead Caravelle guests through the thicket of the city’s art history, is an able raconteur. Her anecdotes range from stories about a group of students who opened an art school in a forested rebel camp, to the art patron who commissioned dozens of portraits of his family to help his struggling friends, to the combat artist who survived two wars and two treacherous journeys on the Ho Chi Minh Trail to retire as a colonel.

The tour takes in propaganda art shops, coffee shops and an incredible old Saigon mansion, once the home of a Chinese-Vietnamese entrepreneur, today the home of the city’s Museum of Fine Arts.

Venturing out and about is not always necessary when it comes to exploring a destination’s art culture. At the Palace Hotel Tokyo, which opened in May of last year after a $1.2 billion development, the owners sunk seven figures of US dollars into an art collection that’s winning raves from guests and inquiries from people who keep hearing about the hotel’s collection. Why? Because the hotel’s collection includes some of the country’s most talented, contemporary (and up-and-coming) artists.

More than 1,000 works of art vie for eyeballs throughout the hotel, with the grandest pieces hung from the walls and put upon pedestals in the lobby, in reception and in meeting spaces. (The hotel itself makes its own claim as a work of art, winning renown as the best designed, large hotel in the world this year from Travel + Leisure magazine in the States.) The artwork is bound by the hotel’s insistence on natural connections. The individual pieces, whether in granite, basalt, felt or acrylic, are individual echoes of this hotel-wide commitment.

“People generally don’t come to Tokyo expecting memorable encounters with nature. They’re usually here on business, or for the vast dining experiences, or simply because you’ve not entirely experienced Asia unless you’ve been to Japan,’ said Palace Hotel Tokyo Executive Director & General Manager, Masaru Watanabe. ‘We’re always mindful of the vital connection between what the Japanese regard as natural beauty and what we regard as great art, and so with that in mind, and given our proximity to the Imperial Palace gardens, it was important to us to build bridges into the natural environment with our design - including our art.”

So enthused about the art in its midst, the hotel has published a book detailing its collection. Explore the collection online here.

A world away in Bali, one of the island’s most sublime retreats, The Chedi Club Tanah Gajah, has furthered its artistic ambitions with a new Arts Expressions program that steers painters from their digs in the rice paddy to the private estate of renowned Bali designers, Hendra Hadiprana. There, on a perch above the Sayan River, guests put paint to paper in an iconic Bali landscape.

In the summer of 2012, the same resort launched in-house art classes with noted Bali-based art expert and illustrator, Bruce Granquist. The Art Afternoons program seeks de-mystification of paintings in the Batuan style, one of the island’s signature forms. Beyond the confines of the thatched sala, more than 100 artworks collected by Hadiprana grace the walls, pedestals and plinths of the Chedi’s five hectares of lush gardens, quiet ponds and traditional Balinese architecture.

"Ubud is renown as one of Southeast Asia's more soulful destinations," said Simon Spiller, general manager of the Chedi Club Tanah Gajah Ubud. "What we're trying to do with Art Expressions and Art Afternoons is provide an even more accessible way into the depths of this place."

For Westerners, especially, the allure of the Far East is an opportunity to find meaning and reinvigorate the soul. One Westerner who’d come back East after 40 years away and explored a new direction in her life is the legendary American folk singer, Joan Baez. She whiled 11 days in Hanoi in March of this year, producing her first signed painting, which now hangs in the lobby of the Sofitel Legend Metropole Hanoi. Indeed, Baez said that her days as a singer were waning while her interest in painting had only just begun.

In observance of Baez’s example, the Metropole in August unveiled ‘In the Footsteps of Joan Baez,’ a 2-night package that explores the world of Hanoi art as Baez herself experienced it. A local art dealer escorts package guests into Hanoi’s hidden ateliers, its prosperous galleries and contemporary exhibits, and provides an introduction, as well, to its traditional craft mediums of lacquer, silk and clay.

Another guided walk plumbs the 36 streets and guilds of Hanoi’s bustling Old Quarter, leading guests to the silk and linen embroidery of Hang Gai Street, the bamboo instruments and furniture of Hang Hom, and the sidewalk theatre played out in the cafes and tea shops surrounding Hoan Kiem Lake.

At $2,000 per night guests will stay where Baez stayed, in the hotel’s Somerset Maugham Suite.

“Not every artist is a struggling artist,” said the hotel’s general manager, Kai Speth. “For those who are not, and who want their passage through the Orient to include the plush interior of a BMW 7 Series, we’re the place to be.”

# # #
Joan Baez works on her first signed portrait in the Metropole Hanoi's Somerset Maugham Suite

Duadari, a private Balinese estate, serves as setting for the Chedi Club's fledgling painters

The Palace Hotel Tokyo published a book, compiling all of the hotel's artwork, including Himaku (Sunflower), by Masahito Katayama
From the stately Caravelle Hotel, guests buzz through the city, exploring everything from socialist realism to the avant garde

Vo Thi Huong Lan | PR Coordinator | Balcony Media Group | +84.905.939.302 | Skype: LanHue054 |
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This year in Thailand-what next?

AseanAffairs   04 January 2011
By David Swartzentruber      

It is commonplace in journalism to write two types of articles at the transition point between the year that has passed and the New Year. As this writer qualifies as an “old hand” in observing Thailand with a track record dating back 14 years, it is time take a shot at what may unfold in Thailand in 2011.

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