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Beijing Art District
Jun 6 , 2011
If you're an art aficionado, or just someone craving a dose of culture, be sure to check out the magnificent Beijing Art District to discover the city's burgeoning contemporary art scene.
In the mid-1990s, Beijing experienced a mini-cultural revolution that saw artists move into a section of Communist-era military factories, where they began to practice and display their art. Since then, this space has grown into the Beijing Art District, otherwise known as the 798 Art District (named after Factory #798), and it has become Beijing’s avant garde equivalent to New York City’s SoHo. Today, the Beijing Art District is a contemporary cultural haven in China’s capital, and it is home to many galleries, cafes, and studios, which attract artists and fans from around the world. While you’re in the city, you should be sure to spend a morning or afternoon exploring the Beijing Art District, and you’ll discover the cutting edge urban culture that continues to drive the city.
The Art District's Factory Site
The Beijing Art District’s factory site dates back to the 1950s, when it was built by East Germany using funds provided by the Soviet Union, in an attempt to develop a harmonious relationship between the socialist countries. While it was used to create military and heavy industrial products for decades, it was defunded in the 1990s. Local radical artists, looking for cheap places to occupy and display their art, flocked to Factory 798 for its low rent, and they began to set up shop against the backdrop of fading pro-Mao slogans and Bauhaus industrial design.
Navigation of the Area
Visitors will want to travel by taxi or public transportation, and be dropped off on Jiuxianqiao Lu, which is near the Dazhong Electronics Market. Walk past the market, and you’ll see signs directing you towards the art district. The best place to begin your exploration of the Beijing Art District is at the Long March Space, which is a multi-roomed gallery, whose offerings run the gamut of artistic media. You’ll find sculptures and paintings, as well as videos, mixed media, and art cars. After you’ve finished exploring the Long March Space, the next great gallery you’ll reach is Chinese Contemporary, which is an extremely important site for Chinese modern art. Only the best of Chinese contemporary artists are featured in this site, and many of them create work whose messages are political in nature, making them daring, important, and worth checking out during your visit.
Besides these noteworthy galleries, Factory 798 is teeming with boutiques. These small stores offer all kinds of goods, including gowns and coats with hand sewn patchwork that evokes Mao-era images, and linen and cotton clothing. These items are of top quality, and they make excellent souvenirs, particularly for fashion or art conscious friends and family at home.
Of course, you’ll find other sights and sounds worth exploring at the Beijing Art District beyond art. If you want to feel the pulse of this cultural center, step into Time Zone 8. Time Zone 8 is a bookstore that serves up a top-notch cappuccino, as well as a wide variety of art books. Take your cup and browse through this impressively kept bookstore, and get up close with the culture that has fueled the Beijing Art District since its inception. If you’re hungry, grab a bite at the Sichuan Restaurant or At Café. At Café is known for its tasty salads, and its cozy terrace is set against the space’s crumbling brick walls, offering an ambience you won’t find many other places. Sichuan Restaurant offers more substantial fare, and its most popular dish is its mala beef stew, which is widely regarded for being tongue-numbingly spicy.
In a city that is still in flux between communism and the rapid changes of growth seen today, the Beijing Art District acts as a lighthouse for the city’s cultural progress. Step onto the cutting edge with a visit to this mesmerizing art venue, and watch progress in action.
After experiencing Beijing art and culture, find more must-see Beijing attractions.