On the occasion of the Biennial of the Lions Asian debut, the Times toured the exhibition devoted to the “king of the jungle” at MGM Art Space with Grant Bowie, chief executive officer and executive director of MGM China. We asked him if MGM China’s art program is going to be continued at the gaming operator’s second property in Macau, and the first one in Cotai.
“Absolutely,” he answered. “Not only is it being continued, the whole property is being designed around that process.” Mr Bowie hinted that the Cotai property will be multifunctional, able to host all kinds of shows, including performing arts. A resident show is also a possibility.
“We’re not just committed to the visual arts, it’s music, it’s entertainment (…) we see ourselves as having this wonderful opportunity to sample and taste and to expose people who normally wouldn’t be exposed,” the CEO revealed.
It is this “convergence of entertainment, leisure and art” that is expected from MGM’s future resort. Design ideas for the property are being discussed now, but Bowie assured us that the point is “creating the infrastructure.”
“Creating the space, the structure, the engineering and not over focus on what the creative process is, because that is going to come over time. The notion about fashion is recognizing that people change their clothes all the time. We need to build a building that has the ability to change itself, morph itself and evolve as things evolve. To be able to do that is quite complicated, because many architects want to build it and it’s finished. People like us, in MGM, live in these buildings and want them to continually evolve. In a lot of ways we strip away some of the things architectural designers want to do, because we want to be able to put those layers back. (…) What makes a classical design are simply things that don’t age.”
The lion has always been the symbol of MGM, and the gaming operator is now sponsoring the first Asian edition of the Biennial of the Lions. Fifty artists from France, mainland China, Macau and Hong Kong were challenged to create 50 different lion sculptures, which are currently being showcased at MGM Macau and at various other locations around the city. The number 50 was not randomly chosen. The biennial – organized by the Civic and Municipal Affairs Bureau, the Museum of Art and the Consulate General of France in Hong Kong and Macau – serves to mark 50 years of French-Sino relations.
According to Grant Bowie, “MGM has a long history, starting as a movie company, evolving into gaming entertainment –
and that includes in Las Vegas now that we obviously have more shows, more theaters and more art galleries than anybody else in the industry.”
MGM China’s top executive says that the company is trying to recreate the “DNA” showcased by its history in Macau, adapting it to local tastes. “Being in Macau, we understand that that entertainment is probably different. We try to summarize it as creating environments of living movies. We had a series of exhibitions in the ‘Grande Praça’, within the corridors, we haven been associated with AFA [Art for All Society] in Macau, giving young artists opportunities to exhibit their works. And this is now the next phase, firstly with the Botticelli [Venus exhibition], and now we move on the next layer, which is aligning ourselves with significant events which influenced both China and Macau,” the CEO continued, referring to the beginning of the diplomatic ties between France and the PRC 50 years ago.
Mr Bowie observes that the Biennial of the Lions is linked to MGM, since the lion is an icon of MGM and the emblem of Lyon, the French city where the event was founded in 2004. “This is the first time it’s [the biennial] coming to Asia and it seems appropriate and significant that this relationship should be with MGM, whose logo is the lion,” he stresses.
One of the principles behind the event was to inspire a number of community and academic organizations – including Alliance Française of Macau and Obra das Mães – to work on their own lion sculpture. Stating that MGM “understands the heritage of Macau,” Grant Bowie commented that, “people keep on talking about diversification, but diversification takes many forms and one of the critical points is active engagement with the community. We always want to be fun, interesting, but it is also about building character and elements into the opportunities of Macau.”
The element of interaction with the community is underlined in the concept of the Biennial of the Lions. Similarly to “Anno Equitum” – a Venetian-sponsored project where 38 Macau artists decorated horses that were placed outdoors to mark the Year of the Horse – the lions showcased in the biennial will also tour the city. “We are working with the Macau institutions (…) to take our lions out into the community, because I think what’s really important for us is not about what we keep in our property, it’s about what we share and we actually put into the community. It’s a collective journey, a celebration for Macau, not just for MGM,” the CEO claimed. “Many of these lions were created by significant artists and therefore they are significant pieces of art.”
So, the question arises: Where will some of the lions showcased in the biennial stand after the event closes on October 12?
Some of them could end up in Las Vegas, Mr Bowie told us, since Jim Murren, the chairman and CEO of MGM Resorts, has expressed interest in taking some of the lions to MGM’s permanent art collection in Las Vegas. Other lions created by Chinese artists could be shown in their hometowns back in China. And of course, there is a lot of space available in the Cotai property.
‘King of the jungle’ rules at MGM Art Space
The MGM Art Space features an exhibition that includes two bronze lion sculptures by Chinese contemporary artist Gao Xiaowu, reminiscent of Fernando Botero’s works. The lion is also the theme of six Eugene Delacroix paintings that are replicated in the exhibition. Besides the king of the jungle, there is an area dedicated to the diplomatic ties between France and the People’s Republic of China, which kicked off in 1964 when France and China agreed on a “joint communiqué.”
There are also multimedia presentations and photographs pertaining to MGM’s roaring lion mascot. MGM stands for Hollywood film studio Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, although MGM Resorts International and MGM China are not affiliated with the media company.
First designed for Goldwyn Pictures Corporation in 1916, the lion logo was chosen by a publicity executive as a tribute to Columbia University and the song “Roar, Lion, Roar.” The exhibition at MGM’s Art Space features a re-creation of the moment of filming with the lion Jackie in 1924, showing how the cinematographers recorded his famous roar in Goldwyn’s studios in California.
Based on the proposal given to the artists – to create 50 different lion sculptures – the exhibition features an interactive space where visitors are given the opportunity to create their own virtual lion sculpture. After finishing their artwork, they can email it on the spot.
The Biennial of the Lions was founded in 2004 in Lyon as “Rêve des Lions” (“Dream of the Lions”). The festival officially morphed into La Biennale des Lions in 2005 and has since travelled to Turin (2006), Quebec (2008) and Algiers (2012). When asked about the sponsorship budget needed to bring the event to Asia for the first time, Grant Bowie didn’t provide a figure, stating only that it was “expensive.”