The artistic tradition in China has a long history, but some of the most interesting art is the one being produced right now. Although China may be renowned more for its harsh censorship laws than tradition of artistic freedom, Beijing proves that art needn’t be overt in order to be meaningful. The Dashanzi Art District, or 789 Zone, is located in the Chaoyang District of Beijing, and is the city’s most important contemporary artistic centre. Set inside fifty former military factory buildings, this warehouse was converted into an artistic locale in the 1990’s.
Originally built under the direction of the newly formed Communist government and the Soviet Union, these warehouses were intended to further the military might of Communist China. By the late 1980’s the warehouses were abandoned and provided the perfect space for China’s avant-garde artists. In 1995, the Beijing Central Academy of Fine Arts took over factory #706 and converted it into a vast workspace for their budding artists. Since then, designers, sculptors and artists of all types began filtering into the warehouses and setting up shop.
There are several galleries scattered throughout the space, including spaces for photography and high-profile couture launches. The original gallery that lent its name to the entire establishment is 789 Space. Although it started out as a more low-key gallery, it has since turned into a hub for high-profile activities such as product launches, fashions shows and press conferences. It is broken up into a few sections, including a large exhibition hall, lounge, bookstore and old-factory bar. Resident artists include Long-Bin Chen, a Taiwanese sculptor who has won global acclaim for his remarkable paper sculptures that appear to be made of rock or wood, and Xu Yong, a photographer who focuses on Beijing’s hutongs (alleyways).
The Chinese Contemporary Beijing is one of the largest spaces in Beijing, and has branches in London and New York. Its mission is to promote “contemporary Chinese art, by artists living and working in mainland China.” Because of its locations abroad, this gallery can sponsor often-provocative artwork that may not be allowed on the mainland. Previous exhibitions include “Fashion Disconnect – Normal Life” by Zhao Bo, a controversial exhibition focusing on the consumerism that has taken a hold over the previously austere capital.
The Beijing Commune, founded in 2004, focuses on all different kinds of contemporary artistic media including photography, video and sculpture. Besides hosting exhibitions that strive to discover underground art, the Commune also organizes conferences and publishes books on Chinese contemporary art. In 2009, its resident artists Song Dong had a solo exhibition entitled “Projects 90,” which explored conceptions of transience and impermanence through video, performance and photography, and was sent to the MoMa later in the year.
Other notable galleries also include 798 Photo Gallery, Tang Contemporary Art and Yuanfen New Media Art Space.