Exploring Contemporary Chinese Art in a Reclaimed Factory Complex
Strolling through this warren of contemporary art studios, shops, and cafes is a creative explorer's dream. The heat and humidity were punishing during my recent August visit to the 798 Art District, but the shaded alleys and airy galleries provided respite and an ever-changing visual feast. The work ranged from gutsy political satire to loopy pop culture fluff to delicate and lovely new takes on traditional forms of pottery and painting. And because the 798 Art District is housed in a reclaimed 1950s factory complex, you'll find almost equal measures of gritty, industrial ambiance (think graffiti, dank passages, dodgy public toilets) and Soho sophistication (though trust me, you won't mistake the ambiance for the Big Apple). Allow yourself at least a full lazy afternoon for browsing, snacking, and drifting in and out of the crowds that gather around the occasional music acts. And while it's absolutely true that Beijing's historic sites will have you marveling at the scope and power of imperial China, a visit to this hive of modern culture will provide you a hundred different windows into the hearts and minds of today's Chinese people.
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Modern Art With an Industrial Edge
Everyone complains that 798 Art District has become too commercialized. Ignore the criticism, because 798 is still a visual feast. Graffiti is scrawled all across the complex, with art galleries, outdoor sculptures, fancy cafes, and adorable boutiques hidden around every corner. The centerpiece is the UCCA Gallery, clearly marked by the red dinosaur sculpture. The Bauhaus-esque 798 Space has industrial machinery and Maoist slogans, while the abandoned train (and train tracks) over at 751 D-Park is fun for kids or couples looking for a cute photo-op. Long March Space and Faurschou Foundation usually have solid exhibitions, but feel free to wander into whatever space strikes your fancy.