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. In this walking tour of Beijing's 798 art district, we look at how contemporary art is being dramatically transformed in China.
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|
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.