In case you haven’t heard I’m here to tell you that the Chinese art market is hot. Just how hot you ask? Sotheby’s sold $69.9 million dollars of Chinese art in 2008. Sotheby’s was onto China early as the first auction house to hold a sale solely dedicated to contemporary Chinese art in Hong Kong in 2004. If you’re an art collector you might be interested in getting your hands on some of this art, but you’re going to have to fight more than 1.3 billion people for it. The Chinese are the biggest buyers of art from China (as of 2008 80% of the buyers are Chinese according to the BBC). This is a change from the 2004 Sotheby’s auction where 80% of the buyers were foreigners.
The start of the Chinese art movement took place when Deng Xiaoping opened China to the world in 1978. Many of them started playing with more Western techniques and even addressing political issues. Through their art some artists started to discuss the damage done by the cultural revolution. The movement was called “scar painting” and “the art of the wounded.” The uncensored views, which are few and far between in China, of artists are still popular and the range of issues brought up on canvas and through other mediums covers more than just the cultural revolution. The pollution problems and free expression were commons themes in each of the three art districts we visited.
If you are looking for a breath of fresh air, not from pollution unfortunately, but from censorship plan on working one of the art districts in Beijing, Shanghai or Shenzhen into your China travel itinerary. Each of them are unique and captivating.
Beijing: 798 Art District
The 798 Arts District in the capital is a circa 1950’s industrial park developed as part of an agreement with the Soviet Union and East Germany in a communist alliance of sorts. It’s history makes the old Dashanzi factory complex’s current use all the more intriguing. The contemporary art exhibits on display are thought-provoking and surprisingly uncensored. We found paintings depicting the polluted skyline of Beijing, mocking Mao statues, stunning photography and some fascinating paintings illustrating the effects of the cultural revolution. The small cafes and trendy shops dotting the art district make it easy to enjoy an entire day at the arts district.
How to get there:
Address : No. 4, Jiuxianqiao Road, Chaoyang District, Beijing
798 Art Zone is about a 20-minute drive from Beijing International Airport by taxi or you can take bus numbers 403, 418, 629, 688 or 909 to Dashanzi Lukou Dong.
This statue remains from the Dashanzi Factory complex that is now the 798 Arts District inBeijing. Other reminders of the districts previous use such as Mao slogans can still be seen today.
Shanghai: 50 Moganshan Art District
An old warehouse district from the 1930’s, the current Shanghai arts community once housed factories that made silk and calico. The district was started by art legend Xue Song in 2000 when he moved his workroom into one of the restored spaces at 50 Moganshan Road. Since then M50 as it is commonly known has become one of the largest art districts in China only rivaled by Beijing’s 798. Currently ore than 130 artists, filmmakers, architects and graphic design firms inhabit the area. A visit to this Chinese art mecca means checking out some of the most avant-garde paintings and artistic works going on in China today.
How to get there:
Address: 50 Moganshan Lu, near Aomen Lu and Suzhou Creek
You can take a taxi to the arts district, or to go on your own the best access is from the Shanghai Railway station metro stop on the 3/4 metro line plus a 10 minute walk. You can ask around for directions once you exit the railway station.
Graffiti on one of the gallery buildings at M50 in Shanghai
Shenzhen: OCT Contemporary Art Terminal
The OCT Contemporary Art Terminal (OCAT) in Shenzhen is a new contemporary art organization under the umbrella of Shenzhen’s He Xiangning Art Museum, and is significant in being the first such professional institution to be established in association with, and administrated by, a state-owned art museum anywhere in China. Don’t worry the artists here still seem to speak their mind through art. In fact this is evidence that China is recognizing both the importance and popularity of Chinese contemporary art. It has the word terminal in it’s name deliberately as it will serve as a hub for Chinese art to be bought and sold on the international market. It is a particularly good place to find sculpture and furniture as well as paintings.
How to get there:
Address: Behind Konka, OCT
Metro Station Qiao Cheng Dong, Exit A. Walk back 150 meters to Enping Road.
One of the artistically decorated buildings in the OCT Contemporary Art Terminal
Even if you make it to just one of China’s thriving art districts it will give you another view of this ever-changing country. The free expression exhibited in China’s avante garde art scene is evidence of the swift change that is sweeping China. As the country opens up and the people start to have free spending money you can bet that even more Chinese will be looking to purchase art. If Chinese artists can be said to serve any master today, it is more likely to be commercialism than communism said art critic Zhu Qi. So, if you want in on the art scene, like everything in China you better get there soon.