Chinese contemporary art used to be dominated by Western collectors’ ideas of what Chinese art should be, namely political, performative and angry. In recent years, the script has switched and Chinese collectors/curators are now the largest, most courted market. While this does mean that ancient bronzes and calligraphy are more valued than ever, it also signals a new willingness and risk-taking approach to engaging with and exploring new media and contemporary pieces, especially those by young Chinese artists.
So speaking of ancient bronzes and calligraphy, if you and your family are done with exploring room after quiet room of them in the National Museum or the Palace Museum, Beijing is home to a host of high-quality contemporary art museums and galleries. In the past decade, Beijing has seen a flurry of new art spaces rise and, most notably with the hutong art scene, fall. Here is but a small selection of some excellent art museums and organizations that are going strong, organized into districts perfect for a full day of art exploration.
798 Art District
Once the premier stop for contemporary art, 798 is nowadays somewhat a victim of its own success. It’s long since become “Nanluoguxiang-efied” with increasingly rampant tourist shops, cute boutiques and bubble tea kiosks, but that also means it’s much more convenient and easier to visit with kids. Pace yourself; there is really too much to see in one visit. Wander around a few galleries that pique everyone’s interest, walk the Highline and see the old train station on the far eastern side of the complex, then get some fro-yos afterward.
M WOODS Contemporary Art
Housed in a stark, minimalist building in the industrial landscape of 798, M WOODS offers a millennial counterpoint to the Ullens Center. Boldly youthful, this not-for-profit houses an impressively eclectic permanent collection spanning from avant-garde video art to ancient Indian paintings. They’ve also got a fun gift shop, and once the weather warms up, check them out for occasional daytime outdoor parties featuring live music and artisanal goodies.
The current exhibition, ending February 11, features young Chinese artist Yu Yang, whose eye-meltingly colorful Buddhist, anime, and video game-inspired mixed media work has to be seen to be believed.
RMB 60 for adults, RMB 40 for students. (Tue-Sun, 10.30am-6pm) D-06, 798 Art Zone, 2 Jiuxianqiao Road, Chaoyang District (8312 3450) 朝阳区酒仙桥路2号798艺术区中二街D-06号
Ullens Center for Contemporary Art (UCCA)
Opened over ten years ago, UCCA has been a sturdy stalwart amongst 798’s increasing commercialism. Frequently exhibiting major international and Chinese contemporary artists, they also have a kids’ playroom on site and plenty of kid-friendly events in their monthly programs. Currently up is the Music is Art exhibition, running until February 11 and featuring work by Taiwanese pop idol Edison Chen. The playful work looks particularly fun and ridiculous.
RMB 60 for adults, RMB 30 for students. (Tue-Sun, 10am-7pm) 798 Dashanzi Art District, 4 Jiuxianqiao Lu, Chaoyang District (5780 0200) 朝阳区酒仙桥路4号798艺术区4号路尤伦斯当代艺术中心
The stark skyscrapers and brash shopping mall commercialism of Shuangjing are also home to a strong arts district in “Pingod,” or Apple Community, just south of Tonghui river. The main draw at Pingod is Today Art Museum, but there are other smaller galleries and art institutions located in the same plaza. Afterwards, wander around the Pinggu Beiqu Art Street, which has several cafes and many sculptures to pose with.
Vitamin Creative Space
Also in the Apple Community Complex, Vitamin Creative Space specializes in site-specific projects around China as well as conceptual art, architecture and urban planning. Exhibiting in Art Basel Hong Kong this year, Vitamin has worked with a number of well-known artists working in new media, like Cao Fei, known for his virtual Second Life “RMB City” and Olafur Eliasson’s massive dramatic light installation spaces. They are most known for their sprawling Mirrored Gardens project based in Guangzhou, but their workspace,
The Pavilion, is conveniently located in Apple Community. The space has ongoing projects, so stop by and check it out after visiting Today Art Museum.
Free Admission (Mon-Fri, 1pm-6pm) 2503-B, Building 2, Northern District, Pingod Community, No.32 Baiziwan Lu, Chaoyang District (5826 3440) 朝阳区百子湾路32号2503-B-二号楼
Today Art Museum
Located right in CBD, Today Art Museum arguably houses Beijing’s finest collection of big ticket Chinese contemporary artists like Yue Minjun and Fang Lijun. Although they specialize in large scale contemporary painting, their collection and traveling exhibitions feature video and digital media.
Two years ago, Today Art Museum exhibited a massive, ambitious exhibition called Future of Today that featured VR technology, augmented reality, and a virtual exhibition. The massive space itself is an architectural wonder, and they’ve got a good museum shop and bookshop downstairs. Call for future shows as their website is not updated regularly.
Free admission on the first Saturday of each month. RMB 20 for adults, RMB 10 for students. (Tue-Sun, 10am-6pm) Pingod Space, #32 Baiziwan Lu, Chaoyang District (5876 0600) 朝阳区百子湾路32号
Many impressive art venues in Beijing aren’t in particularly downtown neighborhoods. As is the same worldwide, higher rents in centralized areas of the city forced artists into the suburbs, creating art districts like Caochangdi. On the same note, larger museums and university art galleries can operate in more isolation and with larger plots of land in the suburbs.
Central Academy of Fine Arts (CAFA) Museum
CAFA Art Museum is housed in a smooth, soapstone-like structure created by Japanese architect Arata Isozaki. CAFA always has thought-provoking pieces and has many shows packed with young, visually stimulating new media work, so would be loads of fun with kids.
Currently, CAFA is showcasing a retrospective from Li Hua. Li is regarded as a woodcutting master, which makes him a fine subject to mark the Central Academy of Fine Art’s “Hundred Years of Glory,” a series of exhibitions and events to commemorate the longstanding institution’s centenary. An extensive collection of his work has been installed in stunning backlit wood boxes filled with both the prints and the woodcuts, which undeniably enhances the experience of this otherwise antiquated art form.
RMB 15 for adults, free for kids. (Tue-Sun, 9am-5.30pm) 8 Huajiadi S St, Wangjing, Chaoyang District (6477 1575) 王景区花家地南街8号中央美术学院美术馆
Red Brick Art Museum
Named after its stunning industrial red-brick Chinese garden environs, Red Brick Art Museum is a cutting-edge, privately owned museum focused on avant-garde, contemporary art. Currently on exhibit is a retrospective from Dan Graham who has been at the forefront of many of the most significant developments in art, including video and film installation, performance, and site-specific sculptures.
Be sure to head to the gardens after enjoying the art. The stunning brick architecture that fuses both traditional Chinese and industrial aesthetics is worth the visit alone, and there is plenty of space for kids to run around.
RMB 60 for adults, RMB 40 for students. (Tue-Sun, 10am-5.30pm) Hegezhuang Village, Cuigezhuang Township, Chaoyang District (8457 6669) 朝阳区中国北京市朝阳区崔各庄乡何各庄村
Photos: Kipp Whittaker
This article appeared on p30-33 of beijingkids February 2018 issue.