798 Art Zone

The 798 Art Zone or Dashanzi Art District can be found in the northeast corner of Beijing, capital city of the People’s Republic of China. The area currently houses a thriving artistic community in 50-year-old decommissioned military factory buildings. Nowadays, international artists like Ai Wei Wei display their work in transformed exhibition areas. The factory buildings are widely known for their Bauhaus architectural style, which originated in Germany.

Beijing Summer School

Look, it’s me! I’m awkwardly posing in front of an amazing artwork by Ming Wong at the Ullens Center for Contemporary Art. That one was definitely my favourite piece. I visited the 798 Art Zone last summer whilst I was studying Chinese philosophy at Beijing Normal University and eating lots of wonderful food.

History

The current site of the 798 Art zone used to house the Danshanzi factory complex, officially named ‘Joint Factory 718’. This complex was the result of military-industrial cooperation between the Soviet Union and PRC in the 1950s. Construction began in 1954 and equipmen was transported via the Trans-Siberian railway. Production finally began in 1957 with a grand opening ceremony of Communist brotherhood between China and East Germany. The factory was extremely succesful, but eventually became obsolete in the 1980s after political reforms. Sub-factory 798 used to be its largest component.

Artistic Transformation

After the factory was closed down, many artists decided to rent the vacant plants and eventually transform them into galleries, studios, and fashion shops. This is how the 798 Art Zone grew into its modern form. Avant-garde art was frowned upon by the government, so artists had already gotten used to living on the fringes of the city. In fact, many used to live and work in run-down houses near the old Summer Palace, until they were evicted.

Ullens Center for Contemporary Art

The Ullens Center for Contemporary Art is public not-for-profit art center within the 798 Art Zone. The center opened in November 2007 and waws founded by Guy and Myriam Ullens de Schooten. These world leading art collectors decided to build the center because of their deep affection for Chinese culture. I didn’t have a lot of time to explore the Art zone, but I don’t regret spending most of the afternoon in the Ullens Center. Even better: students do not have to pay the entrance fee!

If you happen to be travelling to Beijing anytime soon (or whenever), definitely do plan an afternoon visit to the art zone. Strolling around the whole district will take you about 20 minutes, but that’s shopping/gallery viewing/art center visits excluded. I’m a bit sad I didn’t get to see more, but I suppose I’ll just have go back to Beijing.

Talk to you later!

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