INSIDERS: BEIJING’S EDGY ART
Tiffany Wai-Ying Beres
GO: From its beginnings as an underground movement post-Cultural Revolution, Chinese contemporary art has become a hugely influential force in a globalised art world. Where better to experience all the dynamism of China’s thriving contemporary art scene than the 798 Art Zone in Beijing, the first and most important art district of mainland China; 798district.com.
SEE: Once a top-secret military factory-unit, artists began moving to the Bauhaus-influenced buildings in the late-90s in search of affordable space. From factory floor to artistic installation, gigantic open spaces are filled with brilliant light, even on smoggy days, thanks to the sawtooth windowed ceilings. Look out for leftover revolutionary slogans on the walls; artists originally kept these red characters so as not to offend officials, but now they seem more like tokens of kitsch.
LEARN: Home to some of the best-known art spaces in China, be sure to visit UCCA, a not-for-profit centre founded by Belgian art collectors Myriam and Guy Ullens that has greatly advanced attention on Chinese contemporary art. Check out international galleries — such as Pace and Chambers Fine Art — that focus on art-world superstars, and discover emerging local talents at some of the smaller venues, like Beijing Commune, Hadrien de Montferrand or Magician Space; ucca.org.cn/en; magician-space.com.
ENJOY: Most of the painters and sculptors who once called 798 home have left due to sky-high rents. And yet 798 is still a wonderful place to find “artsy types”; a favourite hangout for hipsters and art students, this is a great area to spot fashion trends. The streets and alleys that connect gallery spaces are filled with public sculptures and temporary installations, and the district is one of the few where graffiti artists are sanctioned.
BUY: There is art for every budget at 798, from the street artists who will sketch you for $5 to museumworthy works. The UCCA design store sells trinkets, fashion items and limited-edition artwork. Sales help this non-profit centre put on its exhibitions.
DINE: Timezone 8, once an art bookstore and now a thriving sushi bar and western-food cafe, remains a 798 landmark. Or, in a courtyard setting at the north end of the zone, there’s Chinese imperial-style cuisine at Najia Xiaoguan, featuring healthy recipes apparently handed down by the last Qing emperor’s doctor; timezone8.com.
Tiffany Wai-Ying Beres is a contemporary Chinese art curator and historian based in Beijing for the past decade. She has curated more than 30 international exhibitions and contributed to numerous publications about Chinese art; lotusartco.com.
Graham Erbacher Graham.Erbacher@news.com.au