China’s Contemporary Art Garden

China’s Contemporary Art Garden

A giant gray Mao-style suit hangs on a red hook from the face of a massive rock. This sculpture by Chinese artist Zhu Yu is one of more than 200 contemporary works on display at Yuzi Paradise, a 1,320-acre outdoor sculpture park surrounded by mist-shrouded limestone pinnacles in southern China.

The park, a 45-minute drive from the city of Guilin, embodies the new China—the one that displayed cosmopolitan, cutting-edge art and architecture to the world during the Beijing 2008 Olympics—but it also reflects a centuries-old tradition. Since ancient times, emperors and other patrons have commissioned gardens carefully designed to encourage visitors to ponder their place in nature. Similarly, the founder of Yuzi Paradise, Taiwanese entrepreneur Tsao Rhy-Chang, envisioned a place of natural beauty that stimulates the mind with art. His 21st-century garden features works by 140 artists from around the world, including British pop artist Allen Jones, Taiwanese sculptor Ju Ming, and German metalworker Eberhard Eckerle.

In the middle of Yuzi Paradise, the 46-room Hotel of Modern Art rents bicycles for exploring the park’s trails and also offers classes in calligraphy and ceramics taught by local artists. Ask the hotel’s guides to lead you to the nearby 500-year-old “stone city,” where the Ming Dynasty used to hide its army in houses made of rocks. Along the way, you may pass farmers leading water buffalo, and villagers might offer you just-picked pomelos.

Photo courtesy of Homa Libre. This appeared in the December/January 2010 issue.

Bonnie Tsui lives, swims, and surfs in the Bay Area of San Francisco. A longtime contributor to the New York Times, she is the author of the bestselling American Chinatown and Why We Swim. Her work has been recognized and supported by Harvard University, the National Press Foundation, and the Mesa Refuge.