Walk Description

In the last ten years China has risen to the top of the international art world. Chinese artists and their work increasingly push the bounds of acceptable and ask penetrating questions about culture, politics, and the rapid change gripping this country and its role in the world. Much of the energy in the Chinese art world revolves around an abandoned military factory on the city's northeastern edge, the so-called 798 Art District—a sprawling complex of galleries, exhibition spaces, and art zones that bubble with excitement.

The sprawling 798 military factory was built in the 1950s as part of a Chinese-East German collaboration. Designed by Bauhaus architects, the enormous complex once housed up to 20,000 workers, boasted its own hospital and schools, and welcomed a wide array of communist world leaders. In the 1990s, after production of military electronics moved to other, more modern facilities and 798 was abandoned, avant-garde artists moved in and transformed the gargantuan complex into the center of Beijing's dizzyingly accelerated contemporary art world.

During our three-hour introduction to 798 we dive into the center of the complex and immerse ourselves in a number of gallery spaces that shape and define it. We'll learn about the international mix of artists—from throughout Asia, the Americas, and, of course, China—that call 798 their spiritual home and fill its austere, post-industrial spaces with painting, sculpture, and performance. Using the current exhibitions as our guide, we'll take a different course through the maze on different days, guided by an interest in contextualizing the material within an overall discussion of contemporary art today and China's role.

Time will be spent, as well, looking historically at the works that have been based here and how they've changed the course of art in the past 10 years. These include works by Huang Ri, Xu Yong, and the controversial Ai Weiwei who built an art compound on the outskirts of 798. We'll finish at one of the myriad cafes or restaurants located throughout the complex, leaving you to explore the rest of 798's halls on your own, armed with a basic understanding of the Chinese contemporary art scene.

Duration: 3 hours
Category: Art
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    Claire Cuccio

    Based in Beijing, Claire is an independent scholar who works between China and Japan. She writes, lectures, and translates on the art, culture, techniques, and materiality of woodblock printmaking, both in tradition and contemporary practice, and increasingly as cultural heritage. She holds a PhD in Japanese literature from Stanford University and it was her dissertation on an arts and literary magazine that intensified her interest in printed matter, from publishing to papermaking. With extensive residence in Asia, Claire is also engaged in collaborations with contemporary artists and traditional artisans in the local print world.

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    Megan Connolly

    Megan graduated from Smith College with a degree in East Asian Studies and a concentration in contemporary art from China. For over a decade she has been traveling between the United States and Mainland China, initially as a student of Mandarin and ultimately as a contemporary art expert in Beijing. Prior to teaming up with her sister KC Vienna to establish ChART Contemporary, she managed a gallery in New York specializing in Chinese contemporary art for over two years before returning to China to attend the Johns-Hopkins Nanjing Center. Since 2003 Megan has worked as a curator, writer, translator, and consultant on several art projects around China. She consulted for Sotheby’s in Hong Kong and New York in the Chinese Contemporary Art Department in 2006, and held the position of China Researcher for the Asia Art Archive. Most recently she helped curate a Chinese design exhibition in London. Megan has had a long involvement with contemporary art from Asia and is recognized as a specialist in contemporary Chinese art.