How to explore the Beijing art scene
A lot of things come to mind when Beijing comes up-from air quality and politics to the Great Wall and Peking duck. Art probably wouldn't crack the top 5 for associations with the Chinese capitol, but it should.
Not only are Chinese investors influencing the art world in a major way but Chinese artists themselves are making massive contributions to the international scene (but good luck trying to purchase them without a PRC passport).
Like everything else in China, the art scene is changing rapidly so I'd recommend going now then again in a few years as it is always interesting to observe change.
Start your journey by checking into the Hotel Eclat locataed in Donddaqiao Lu. Owned by a Hong Kong based billionaire with a penchant for modern art, the Hotel Eclat houses the largest collection of modern art in all of China. Each room is decorated in a unique way and outfitted with the state of the art technology. You'll find works for Warhol and Dali casually placed throughout the property, along with lesser known but creative works like a hall filled with bicycles designed by couture fashion houses (Kitty Bing would approve!).
Once you've explored the hotel, make your way to the 798 Art District (Dashanzi) . The complex originally began as a part of the "Socialist Unification Plan" of military-industrial cooperation between Soviet Union and the People's Republic of China. However a disagreement between the two led to a collaboration with the Germans who helped complete the project with a Bauhaus. design. For the first few decades it was one of the top factories in China but in the 1980s Deng Xiaoping's reforms eliminated much support for the factory, ultimately rendering the space vacant and leading to decline in the area overall. Eventually artists, who were frowned upon and thus used to operating on the fringes of society, began moving in.
Artists attracted to the vast open spaces continued to trickle in throughout the years but the district's presence as an Art Haven wasn't formally recognized until 2002 when artist Huang Rui (黄锐) and hutong photographer Xu Yong (徐勇) set up the 798 Art Space, which remains the symbolic center of the whole district to this very day.
Today the 798 Art District is home to acclaimed galleries from all over the world, including Pace, Galerie Urs Meile (First international gallery to introduce Chinese Contemporary art to buyers outside China), White Space, and the Farschou Foundation.
This chic district is also home to interesting street art, cute cafes and eclectic boutiques.
Known as the political and economic center of China, Beijing is also famous for its traffic jams and getting around Beijing can be a stressful experience, especially for those who don't speak Mandarin (I've yet to meet a taxi driver in Beijing who speaks English). Hiring a driver through your hotel is less expensive than you'd expect and so worth it, so that you don't have to stress about finding a driver on your way back. If you have cell service (highly recommend paying for it during your travels as English is NOT WIDELY SPOKEN in the Mainland) you can also use Didi (Chinese uber) for getting to and from the Arts district.
I like exploring without too much structure, there's nothing I love me than wandering around and seeing where it takes me. But there are some amazing galleries that you won't want to miss during your visit. In addition to the ones listed earlier, be sure to check out the following: