Art & Culture

13 Dec A Contemporary Art Trip to China

Last November 2007 a US collector paid over US$9 million for a set of 14 paintings by Cai Guoqiang, smashing the record sale for a contemporary Chinese artist.

To art experts this came as no surprise; China’s breakneck economic transformation is now dramatically manifesting itself in the country’s flourishing and increasingly lucrative contemporary art scene.

In some cases popular Chinese artists have seen a tenfold increase in the sale price of their work over the space of just a few years, as with Zhang Xiaogang or Cai Guoqiang.

Chinese avant garde art has to be viewed in the light of the tremendous social and economic upheavals that have taken place in recent decades; a large number of works specifically reflect the tension between the socialist ideals which are still officially valid and the wave of consumerism that has swept the country as a result of capitalist reforms.

Only a decade ago there were no contemporary art spaces of note in China. Foreigners could not legally run galleries or, technically speaking, trade in art. Unauthorized exhibitions were organized secretively, with no publicity, and usually lasted a few hours until forcibly closed. Today, Chinese venues for contemporary art are multiplying rapidly, both in the real world and, increasingly, online.

With the explosion of the Asian art scene, China is becoming a new leader in the global art market. More and more art districts are popping up and new art fairs and museums are blossoming all over China. Below are some useful tips for you to learn where to find the best contemporary art venues in China.

Art & Culture

Beijing is the heart of Chinese politics and culture. Around 60% of the Contemporary Chinese artists live there. The most contemporary art community is located in the Northeast suburb of the city, called “the 798.” This 50 year old military factory was built by German architects during the Cold War period. The factory spaces, which are Bauhaus-influenced, first became artist studios in the 90’s and are now the most visited art tourist attraction in China. If one wants to discover some more authentic, and less touristic, art ambiance in Beijing, they can also walk to the “Caochangdi”, which is a Beijing rural village with many art studios and galleries. Ai Weiwei developed some very contemporary architecture here. For a living artist community, Huantie (Circle railway) and Heiqiao (Black Bridge) are currently the most dynamic live/work neighborhoods for young and emerging contemporary artists. There is also a large community in Song Zhuang, but has become very commercial and corrupted by real estate development in the name of “art.”

The second biggest gathering of contemporary artists in China is in Shanghai, which is China’s most open city embracing the Western culture and is also the financial center of China. For the last two years, the increasing air pollution in Beijing pushed more and more artists to move to Shanghai and the Western culture ambiance gave birth to a new fashion of art collecting. In the past few years, some significant Art Fairs such as Art 021, Photo Shanghai, and West Bund Fair have opened here. More and more collectors choose to build their private museums in Shanghai. With financial independence and less political intervention, private institutions like the Yuz Museum and the Long Museum have become unavoidable venues for Contemporary Art in China. While gallery hopping, one should also never neglect 50 Moganshan Road, which is another perfect example of a transformation of an abandoned industrial spaces into an art district.

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Besides the main cities in China, Contemporary Art has also infiltrated some secondary cities in China. Guang Zhou and Cheng Du are also geographically indispensable to the art map of China. However, these art communities are very restricted and there are very limited showcases. Nevertheless, Guang Zhou is famous for experimental art trends and Cheng Du is known for figurative and realism trends.

The contemporary art community in China is only a small, avant garde part of the art world. Until now, the official art system is still highly controlled by the communist party. Most of the national museums in China are still promoting Sovietic-style realism paintings and traditional ink art. With the globalization and growing influence of contemporary art culture, building up a real Contemporary art museum in China is the next step in the country’s cultural plan.

By Beili Wang