With so much to see in Beijing, you’d think I would have a hard time picking my favorite area. I don’t. After only a short while walking around the 798 Beijing art district it became clear to me this is – by far – my favorite spot in Beijing, and nothing that I saw afterwards was able to change my mind.
It’s quite surprising, actually, that Beijing would have such an area. It’s not trivial. If you think about it, Hong Kong doesn’t really have anything quite like it, and I can’t help but wonder why. Art, by (my own) definition, challenges your perception and feeling of things, and so to find that in an authoritarian country requires sophistication and openness. The way by which art can grow, thrive and challenge the viewers in China in a way that would co-exist with self and central censorship is by itself, an art. You need to be able to strike the balance between not coming across as too blunt while being able to say what it is that you think or feel. If you think Chinese art is really subtle, overly commercial, and non-critical, I’d risk saying you’re probably in for a surprise – I would strongly recommend that you take a tour to either the 798 Beijing art district or the M50 Shanghai art zone with someone who is familiar with the Chinese artists and their work.
Most of the heavy stuff is found in no-photography galleries, some you might be able to catch in the Hong Kong annual art exhibition. But even walking around the streets, you can spot some of the social messages that the artists, or at times even the managers of the art district, tried to deliver. I’ll leave it up to you to decide how you interpret some of the following street statues art.
Once you finish touring the outside, there’s obviously a lot going on inside the buildings. Take the Ullens Center for Contemporary Art, as an example. Some brilliant contemporary art on exhibition.
(this last one is Jennufer Wen Ma’s Hanging Garden in Ink.
But what I likes the most was Gu Dexin‘s work. Here’s an artist that challenges us in many creative ways.
But the especially intriguing part was this series…
which had quite a few visitors captivated…
Fascinating, isn’t it?
Generally, it’s a very pleasant area to walk around, with many galleries, coffee-shops, restaurants, and boutique-shopping. It’s also one of the few places in Beijing you’ll see graffiti art and the public space being used in un-trivial ways.
I was also able to just walk into some fancy launch events for major brands in the area (the new Samsung DSLR).
Don’t miss this. I’d say plan atleast half a day to wonder around, if not more.