The 798 Art Dis­trict: Gallery of Gal­leries

China Pictorial (English) - - Contents - Text and pho­to­graphs by Evan­ge­line White

Lo­cated in the north­east­ern part of Beijing and a con­ve­niently short walk from Wangjing South Bus Sta­tion, the 798 Art Dis­trict has been one of my fa­vorite spots since I ar­rived in the cap­i­tal. Not only does it house the best work of con­tem­po­rary art from China and the world, but also pre­serves count­less fas­ci­nat­ing sto­ries with its historic build­ings.

As a His­tory ma­jor, I couldn’t help but dig into the art dis­trict’s back­ground and his­tory, and I was not dis­ap­pointed with my find­ings. The com­mu­nity be­gan in the early 2000s, when young artists started mov­ing into the largely aban­doned in­dus­trial area for the workspaces in which they could ex­press them­selves. This com­pound of dis­used Bauhaus-style work­shops built in the 1950s still looks much as it has been since com­ple­tion and even pre­serves orig­i­nal Maoist slo­gans on many of its walls. For me, the high ceil­ings, large, empty spa­ces and asym­met­ri­cal pip­ing from the build­ings’ pre­vi­ous in­car­na­tion add to the am­biance and drama of the in­no­va­tive art dis­played on its walls. The area has rapidly grown in pop­u­lar­ity, and in 2004 it held the first Dashanzi Art Fes­ti­val, which landed the dis­trict on the global map.

The 798 Art Dis­trict has grown in re­cent years and now dis­plays a wide range of world­wide con­tem­po­rary art while con­tin­u­ing to sup­port the lo­cal art com­mu­nity.

As a rep­re­sen­ta­tive of in­ter­na­tional con­tem­po­rary art, the art dis­trict has be­come host to a col­lec­tion of gal­leries, all cel­e­brat­ing in­no­va­tive ex­pres­sion. Ex­hi­bi­tions range in both move­ment and medium, dis­play­ing pieces of ev­ery style. I was pleas­antly sur­prised by how dif­fer­ent and in­no­va­tive many dis­plays were com­pared to the more clas­si­cal art that is seen most of­ten back in the United King­dom. I was par­tic­u­larly cap­ti­vated by an ex­hi­bi­tion at the Ul­lens Cen­ter for Con­tem­po­rary Art (UCCA) called “The New Nor­mal,” which ex­hib­ited new works by 23 artists from both China and be­yond. Ev­ery­thing at the ex­hi­bi­tion aimed to tackle and re­spond to

in­ter­na­tional is­sues plagu­ing so­ci­ety to­day. In­stead of pro­duc­ing a purely vis­ual experience, th­ese pieces brought other senses into play to cre­ate an en­gulf­ing experience in­volv­ing senses of sound, sight and color to elicit an emo­tional re­sponse.

The out­door ar­eas of the 798 Art Dis­trict are also a gallery thanks to an ex­ten­sive col­lec­tion of street art and sculp­tural in­stal­la­tions. Th­ese works range from small metal sculp­tures of in­sects to vast mu­rals stretch­ing the length of the street and adding a pop of color against the back­ground of grey metal and con­crete block from the in­dus­trial era.

The art dis­trict is more than just a hub of China’s con­tem­po­rary art move­ment. It is a com­mu­nity that con­tin­ues to thrive and has be­come an in­cu­ba­tor of cre­ativ­ity and in­no­va­tion for any­one wish­ing to ex­per­i­ment and ex­press them­selves. The art dis­trict and its gal­leries con­tinue to host work­shops and sem­i­nars, which all con­trib­ute to the steady growth of an im­por­tant ex­pres­sive strong­hold that con­tin­ues to shape and pro­mote the devel­op­ment of con­tem­po­rary cul­ture. More­over, the art dis­trict in­spires and cel­e­brates both the old and the new. This is what makes it and its art re­lat­able to all, re­gard­less of age, na­tion­al­ity or be­lief.

Spend­ing only one day ex­plor­ing the ex­pan­sive five blocks that make up the 798 is not nearly enough. There was too much to take in and ap­pre­ci­ate. As an art afi­cionado and fre­quent pa­tron of the arts back in Lon­don, I knew that when I left for Beijing to in­tern, the 798 Art Dis­trict was a must-see. When I fi­nally stepped into the art dis­trict, I thought I knew what to ex­pect, but I had not truly pre­pared my­self for the sheer size of the area or for the emo­tional re­sponse that the ex­hibits pro­voked. I was in awe of the artis­tic cre­ations grac­ing my eyes. How­ever, the wel­com­ing at­mos­phere and sense of a per­pet­u­ally de­vel­op­ing artis­tic com­mu­nity draw me back, just as they have drawn many before me.

Bold graf­fiti and a large statue out­side a 3D magic in­ter­ac­tion gallery. Works out­side the Zhu Bin­gren Art Mu­seum.

An ex­am­ple of the 798 Art Dis­trict's in­dus­trial her­itage.

A sculp­ture of di­nosaurs in cages out­side the UCCA.

A mu­ral on a side street.

A bronze sculp­ture of a man hold­ing a boy.

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