Sculptor Chen Wenling's recent exhibition, 'Time Without Changes', at The Opposite House in Beijing was as much about his art as it was the venue. The solo show was the fortysomething artist's first inside a hotel.
'I chose this hotel because I think its design is different from other hotels in China,' says Chen, of the boutique luxury property, designed by Japanese architect Kengo Kuma. 'I'd thought about doing this exhibition for months, so it wasn't a random decision. This is a space for business, so the challenge is how to maintain the independence of my artwork. Before and during the exhibition, the hotel and I negotiated on how to [achieve] that. Not every hotel is suitable for an exhibition as the environment can be too business-like.'
What makes The Opposite House special is its use of space, explains Chen. The unconventional interior design - the ground-level indoor courtyard/atrium is flooded with natural light - makes the venue look more like a contemporary art museum than part of a hotel. It was here that the Xiamen native installed large sculptures from his signature Red Memory series.
'When you enter, you feel you are not exactly in a hotel; in a normal hotel, there are clocks and maps but it's not like that here,' says Chen, a graduate of Xiamen Academy of Art and Design and Beijing Central Academy of Fine Arts.
Instead, there are artworks scattered around the lobby and cafe, including pieces by Sui Jianguo, famous for colourful dinosaur sculptures. The fact the venue had hosted exhibitions for artists such as Peng Wei, Li Xiaoling and Wang Shugang made Chen comfortable showing his work here.
'It can be very dangerous to present artwork in a business environment,' says Chen, as it may change the context of the art. It also raises the question of artistic independence.
'As artists, we have to seek our independent value... what is it and where is it?' says Chen, adding that he is happy with the way his work was displayed at the Opposite House.
'Combining artwork and a business space was the most satisfying part of this collaboration,' says Chen, whose Red Memory series is about childhood innocence and a critique of modern-day materialism. 'This exhibition here was very appropriate.'
The Opposite House, which is planning to install an in-house curator next year, is preparing for its next exhibition: a display of works by the Three Shadows Photography Arts Centre, a Beijing studio set up by renowned husband and wife team RongRong and Inri in 2007.