Photo by age fotostock
798 Art Zone
How a complex of German-built factories became one of East Asia’s hottest art destinations is also the story of modern China. When construction on a number of electronics factories began in Dashanzi in 1956, the area was farmland. Joint Factory 718 was built and a decade later divided into smaller factories, including Factory 798. By the mid-’90s, the factories had shut down and Beijing's Central Academy of Fine Arts, lured by cheap space, had moved out to Dashanzi. Interest snowballed, and soon more artists were setting up shop in these abandoned industrial spaces. Today, 798 is a powerhouse of contemporary Chinese art, with major galleries like UCCA, Long March Space, and Pace Beijing, as well as a few restaurants, shops, and even hotels.
By Sophie Friedman, AFAR Local Expert
Off the Beaten Path in Beijing
If you plan a trip to Beijing, make sure to allow time to visit the “798 Art Zone,” or Dashanzi Art District, where a mix of political, cultural, and economic combustion have created an edgy contemporary art scene. You could easily spend a day walking around this post-industrial-chic neighborhood of 50-year-old, decommissioned, communist-era factories and warehouses (now converted into artists’ spaces, galleries, boutiques, coffee shops, and restaurants), often compared to New York’s Greenwich Village or SoHo. The shopping, even for budget travelers, is excellent, and filled with finds from Mao kitsch items to cool clothing and interesting souvenirs. The UCCA Design Store has many art-themed coffee-table books and slickly designed stationary, clothing, homeware, and furniture. +86 Design Store is a knock-off version of the UCCA; expect cheaper versions of cool designs. Also check out FEI Space for vintage finds, and Spin for beautifully conceived ceramics.
A graffiti fan's paradise
Blocks and blocks of contemporary art galleries, tasty cuisine, cool cafés and designer shops mean that a visit to 798 Art District in Beijing will be a day well spent. Did I mention the amazing graffiti and public sculpture visible everywhere you go?
By Erin Kelly
Something Different in Beijing
I'm gonna catch some flack for this however I didn't like Beijing. At all. Its sprawling, its dirty, it's polluted and the people are pushy. That said I also believe every city, however unloved by myself has a few charms and in the Chinese capital - this re-purposed factory district turned art hood is a reprieve from the madness and therefore a must visit. Pedestrian friendly and filled with contemporary art galleries (inside the factory shells) and some of the best cafes in Beijing, 798 is a very worthwhile for an afternoon visit. It's been around for some time now (however with it's future always in doubt) and it's well documented on the tourist trail but this "zone" features some samples of Chinese graffiti scattered around (see my pic) the factory walls that are worth a look while strolling around in and out of the buildings.
By Thomas June
The old Beijing
Ten years ago, bikes dominated the streets of Beijing. Nowadays, cars have replaced bikes and pollution is getting worse and worse. Next time when you travel to Beijing, try renting a bike and ride along the old streets and alley ways.
By Elaine Li
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.
The 798 Art District has amazing street art and boutiques that show off the Beijing art scene. The Art District is a repurposed military factory district that has been taken over by local artists and intellectuals.
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.
By Lisa Gay