How do you breathe new life into the oldest flagship of a renowned hotel brand? At 45 years old, Le Méridien Etoile is the first property of the brand, whose humble beginnings saw it planted in the fringes of inner Paris to host customers of Air France. Known for housing the French capital's jetset crowd, the 17th arrondissement's charms lie in its proximity to business and cultural landmarks such as Palais des Congrès, La Défense, Champs-Élysées, Arc de Triomphe and the LV Fondation. With the bustling Porte Maillot as a convenient access point into Paris, the hotel attracts a business-heavy crowd, though you can't quite tell once you enter through its large, swinging doors.
The 1,025-room development was recently given a reboot thanks to the mid-century modern smarts by French interior designer Jean-Philippe Nuel, who gave the property a new wash of colours: Grey, ochre, charcoal and blue hues dominate the space, spruced up with gold and brass finishes. Not just any other hotel lobby, you're immediately introduced to The Hub, Le Méridien's calling card. A sculpture by French artist Arnold Goron welcomes guests with each brass petal representing a Parisian micro-district. Each floor in the hotel takes on the character of the arrondissement it's numbered after, so you walk through photographs — by Angie McMonigal, Antony Zaro and VuTheara — capturing snippets of Parisian life. The rooms pay homage to Le Méridien's airline beginnings by referencing the Concorde in the contours of its lights.
But it doesn't just take a highly conceptualised, emotive mood board to set a hotel apart. The city of lights gets its fair share of competition from rival hospitality brands, and with more than 10 million foreign visitors each year, Parisian hotels need an edge and cool factor to set themselves apart. For Le Meridien, their solution lies in the hands of revered Shanghai-born sculptor, Qu Guangci. The co-founder of Chinese art collective X+Q Art, Qu works with his partner and fellow artist Xiang Jing to represent Chinese artists internationally as cultural attachés of sorts. Matt Damon and David Beckham are some of their clients, while past collaborations involved names such as Lane Crawford, the Guggenheim Museum and the Victoria & Albert Museum. In Paris, he's responsible for Le Méridien's first entry into Maison&Objet, one of the design world's biggest events on its calendar.
The real muse in this picture is an unassuming porcelain doll. A character from Qu's 'Ai Mei - Midsummer' series, the porcelain creature has 11 versions, each reflecting the identity of Le Méridien hotels across China. Art aficionados recognise Qu's sculptures for blurring the lines between what's traditional and contemporary, merging culture, politics and commerce in a whimsical nature. These dolls don't break from that narrative, although wanderlust is an underlying theme: The Qingdao-inspired doll depicts colourful sails to reflect the city's sailing culture, while Shanghai's doll proudly wears neon hues to embody the lights on Nanjing Road. Exhibiting for the first time in Maison&Objet 2017 in September, the event saw an opportune time to launch the Paris doll, his first out of China. Prior to the exhibit, I sat down with the Commes des Garcon-fitted sculptor to chat about the challenges of being both an artist and a businessman, the spirit of Paris and the God-like prowess of life as a sculptor.
When was the first time you came to Paris, and what do you love about the city?
I arrived in 1999 and it was my first international destination. As an art student, if you really had to go abroad for the first time, Paris would be the one destination. Since then, I've been about six to eight times. Each time I come, I have a different mentality about it.
You also participated in the last Maison&Objet in 2016. What did you take away from that experience?
What I love about Paris from that trip is how detail-driven it is, and how much attention people pay to all the little details. This detail-driven mindset is reflected in the partnership with Le Meridien as well. I also selected the champagne glass as a motif to reflect the Parisian lifestyle and how chilled the city is.
About that — we know that the red, white and blue colours reflect France's national colours. But could you tell us more about the doll's pose, and her closed eyes? What do you they reflect?
This pose and the closed eyes reflect the mindfulness of this doll; her wish, her imagination, and the beauty of life.
There's a lot of humanity and even divinity in your sculptures. You've also mentioned in another interview that when you create a sculpture, you create a life. Can you share more on that?
Being a sculptor is like being a God. Every time I create a work, I create a soul for each work. When I create, it's about capturing the inner strength of a human being, and finding the emotion and development of Chinese people. It also reflects the beauty of being a human being.
Why did you first start X+Q Art in 2010, and have your goals changed over time?
I believe that art is not for the minority; it belongs to the public. Art should not just be for the rich. Because of China's rapid development over the past 30 years in contemporary art, this has created many opportunities for artists to create artworks that are emotional links of our generation. Hopefully these works can be passed to the next generation to understand what was going on.
You're a businessman as well as an artist. Are you these two aspects of yourself all the time or does one or the other take a backseat?
First of all, I believe that business is a form of art itself. For the business to grow, it has to rely on development. Art itself is free, it's a freedom. In that way, why should art reject business? Business is a wise way to let more people to enjoy and experience the beauty of art.
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