What is the 798 Art Zone?
798 is a thriving and vibrant art and fashion district in Beijing set up in an abandoned military factory complex. 798 hosts galleries, shows and exhibitions from China’s leading artistic personalities and is China’s cutting edge art movement. 798 is the Chinese equivalent of Greenwich Village and SoHo and has attracted visits from presidents, movie stars and royalty.
After you have seen Beijing’s ancient attractions, a trip to 798 will provide an enjoyable and enlightening experience of modern Beijing. 798 has many very cool and chic restaurants and cafes that you can also enjoy during your visit there.
In the early 1950’s the Chinese military was in urgent need of modern electronic equipment that Chinese manufacturing capacity at the time could not supply. To solve this shortage and to help speed up China’s industrialization, Chinese government under Chairman Mao’s leadership set up a joint venture with East Germany.
The joint venture was the 718 Joint Factory that began operation in 1957 on a 500,000 square meter site in the Dashanzi area of Beijing that was farmland at the time. The factory was one of the best in China and employed between 10,000 and 20,000 workers during its operation.
In 1967 the 718 factory was divided into smaller units or factories to improve management. Those factories were 706, 707, 751, 761, 797 and 798. Factory 798 was the largest of the smaller factories.
During Deng Xiao Ping’s reforms during the 1980’s, 718 was cut off from government support and forced to become competitive. Unable to survive, 718 declined in the 1990’s and the smaller factories were gradually closed down and buildings left vacant.
At this time Beijing’s contemporary and modern art community was loosely based in Tongzhou district which was over an hour’s drive from the center of Beijing. Starting in 1995 various prominent artist left Tongzhou and set up work shops, studios and galleries in Factory 798 and 718’s other abandoned factory buildings
There are many studios, shops, galleries, exhibitions, centers, works of art and places of interest in 798 and wandering around 798 visiting these venues is enjoyable, thought provoking and sometimes a little disturbing. There are too many venues too describe so I have included below descriptions and photos the ones I found most outstanding during my recent visit.
Baiyaxuan 798 Art Center
This is a gallery supported by the Baiyazuan Art & Cultural Institute and has many very impressive paintings on display. The building hosting the gallery was originally a dining hall and auditorium for the 718 Joint Factory.
Ullens Center for Contemporary Art UCCA
UCCA is a non profit art center founded by two Belgian art collectors Guy and Myriam Ullens. The center uses 8,000 square meters of space to provide an art experience that includes and combines exhibitions, programs and events, fine dining and shopping. Personally I found it impressive but felt the shopping and eating were out of place. It is extremely popular so you should enjoy it.
798 Photo Gallery
This gallery is the first in China dedicated to photography and the aim of the gallery to find and collect awesome photography and to act as a center of cultural and commercial exchange for photographers. The photographs on display at the time I was there were all black and whites and the minimalist black and white interior of the building was a great combination. The gallery also has a state of the art professional black and white dark room.
798 Space 时态空间
798 Space is pretty much the heart of 798 and is located in the original 798 factory building with its unique curved roof and Mao slogans. The building has an area of 1000 square meters, can easily hold 1000 guests and is often used for contemporary art exhibitions, forums, dances, concerts fashion shows, product launches, press conferences and more. 798 Space also has a book shop and an area for showing films and videos.
Fascinating to see how 798 Space pays tribute to China’s socialist past and present by combining art and politics. The remnants of factory machinery and red Mao slogans on the room together with art displays create a great effect.
This is a large gallery tucked away from the main area of 798 and normally used for solo exhibitions. When I visited, the gallery was exhibiting oil paintings by Zhu Jin, a well known artist from Chongqing. His paintings are not the type I’d hang around the house but they definitely have character.
Originality Square 四空面间
Originality Square is a large square in the middle of 798 that holds outdoor exhibitions. Currently on display is the “Wolf is coming” sculpture collection and some very unusual individual sculptures.
798 is very easy to get to by bus. Catch the 401 bus from the bus stop next to the H exit at the Dongzhimen subway station on line two. Get off at the 10th bus stop which will be the Dashanzi Lukou Nan stop. 798 will be just across the road can you can’t miss the big red 798 sign.
Alternatively you can catch the subway to Sanyuanqiao station on line 10 then catch a taxi to 798. The taxi ride will take no more than 5 minutes and cost no more than 10rmb. Tell the taxi driver to go to 798 or Yishuqu. The area is famous and all the taxi drivers will know where it is.
The area is open all the time but most of the galleries and studios will only be open between 11am to 6pm so try to avoid going out side these times. Many of these galleries and studios also close on Mondays.
To see most of the venues and fully take in the atmosphere of 798, plan to be there for at least three hours.