The Art Factory

Yesterday was another adventure day, though not a tourist sort of adventure. After Skyping with D for a while in the morning, I got a message from “Cloudtrapeze,” someone I met over on Last.fm, a Brit who’s been living in Beijing for some time. She said she would be going to the 798 Arts District to attend a show opening for an artist friend of hers. I did a bit of research and got directions to the place, which is further out from the center of town than I’ve been, between the Fourth and Fifth Ring Roads. It’s in the direction of the airport, and far enough that it’s not on any of the city maps that I have. Note to self: Get a better map.

In spite of the apparent distance, it’s not really that far – the taxi ride was only ¥19, less than it costs to get to the office. I got there around 2pm, which I now know is a little too early, since many of the galleries were not open yet. I wandered around, taking pictures and visiting the galleries that were open.
It’s an old factory area that has been repurposed. The juxtaposition of old industrial buildings and machinery with art is very interesting, and the artists obviously see a value in preserving some elements of the area’s history.
There is a wide variety of art represented here, from well-known foreign names to unknown locals, from big-money corporate-funded to starving independent.There’s a lot of sculpture around the area.
Here’s a fish that apparently does need a bicycle.
The largest gallery I saw looks like this inside. It’s a vast space with several different exhibits. The white boxes are part of a collaborative work: anyone can take up pen or brush and add to it.
They’ve left some of the old machinery intact, like the green thing you can’t see much of in the foreground.
In the Long March Gallery, there is a series of very large paintings depicting modern Chinese women in their homes and jobs.
On the other side of the same gallery is some modern sculpture. For a clue to the scale, that’s a normal-size doorway behind the heads.
Here are some images from other galleries. Some of them had signs prohibiting photography, and I respected their wishes. The last shot is of a gigantic photo of Beijing traffic. I looked at it and said, “I know where that is!” It’s a shopping mall not far from my office.
For some reason, I was fascinated by the idea of taking pictures of people taking pictures of art. I have several more along these lines.
This is another one of the large galleries, featuring a little loft area on the far end. The writing up above dates from the factory days, and is supposed to be inspirational slogans for the workers.
This shot is taken from up there. I don’t know who the woman is that is being photographed. I saw this scene repeated many times during the day, a flock of photographers taking pictures of a woman posing. Is she a movie star? A singer?
Late in the day I finally contacted Cloudtrapeze and found out which gallery to go to. It was on the outskirts of the area, where many of the buildings are still not developed.
This is the Zen Gallery, where Stephanie’s work was on display. There was another artist doing a piece where patrons were given candles and asked to drip the hot wax on his face while he lay on the floor. The large poster to the left of the door is one of Stephanie’s works, depicting Vincent Van Gogh in a Red Army uniform. Her work, like much of what I saw, had a definite political component.
These particular residents of the district did not seem interested in political commentary.

After it got dark, they closed up the gallery and I went to dinner at a tiny little restaurant in the district with Cloudtrapeze, Stephanie and another woman whose name I unfortunately did not catch. We had a good meal and toasted Stephanie’s first public showing.

And here are a couple final shots that didn’t fit in anywhere
I really like this one for some reason. This was outside in an alley across from a café.
And one for the motorsports enthusiasts in the audience.


  1. I'm told that the motorcycles with sidecars were very fashionable a few years ago, and they were noisy and not well made and put out lots of smoke, so the popularity has waned a bit. This one is kind of cool looking, but apparently belongs to someone who is out of step with fashion.

  2. And just to get caught up...thanks for the motorcycle picture. I'm facinated by what other riders around the world use.