798 Beijing Art Village
Chinese contemporary art began to emerge in the early 70’s. Since then art zones have sprouted all over China, especially near large cities. The Blue Roof in Chengdu, Sichuan; The Stonehouse Art District in Chongching, Shanghai; and Art Village 798 in Chaoyang, Beijing are the better known ones.
Chinese art is now very much in world focus. Before this art connoisseurs inside China or outside China had not seen much contemporary work. Now Chinese art is considered ‘intriguing and provocative’ and paintings and sculptures have created a world hunger. Chinese art now fetch billions of dollars and China recognizes the dollar value of these artists. Majority of the work is from living artists.
Hong Kong is a venue for high-end sales of contemporary art. Last week in the April Spring Sale a 20th century Chinese art of Zao Wou-ki drew a top bid of HK$37 million (US$ 4.77 million).
Beijing 798 Art District is located in the northeast in Chaoyang District. This large factory area opened up when studio operators found it difficult to afford city rents. A few galleries, foreign and local, moved in 2002 to this discarded old ammunitions factory site. Soon, attracted by the cheap rent more contemporary artists, sculptors and designers have filtered in making this hub, an art colony. The attraction of the place to local and foreign tourists has also given rise to interesting cafes and restaurants, avant-garde boutiques, souvenir shops and stationary and art supply shops.
It is not only a district of Art but has taken on an atmosphere of a place of international village community.
No visit to Beijing should be considered complete without a visit to ‘Art Village 798.’ After having thrust yourself into the daring dusty traffic, having absorbed the landmarks and suffered the chaos of the great wall and the penance and torture of the forbidden city this is a place to retire to in contemplation.
A tangle of lanes and streets of galleries
Nothing architecturally aesthetic or cohesive but a lovely mish-mash of galleries, design studios and allied small businesses, art suppliers, stationary shops, publishers, book shops, gift stores and kitch boutiques, Mau mementos, souvenirs and art deco cafes and restaurants
Walking though the lanes one comes across galleries of varying sizes of paintings, Chinese designs complementing Western, and indoor and outdoor sculptures and exhibits and wall paintings.
Small gardens, seating and play areas offer plenty of down time. Spend the day strolling and people-watching. Simple small restaurants cafes offer community spirit
Stamped ‘Made in China’. The giant toys pay tribute to China as the toy factory of the world.
The artist Sui Jianguo, Jurassic Age, 2006 designed these enormous toys highlighting the economic boom
Dinosaur toys are designed and made in China for the world.
A cavernous concrete Communist factory of East German Design converted into a gallery with high ceiling and plenty of light and workspace. Red calligraphy on walls reminiscent of political art.
Chill out. Whisper to a tree.
In a very small Sichuan restaurant, yellow note-paper showing message that I am a vegetarian.
The whole kitchen staff came to take a look with much love before setting to prepare my small feast.
Post Script: Zao Wou-ki passed away on 9th April 2013 at the age of 93 on the day this blog was posted.