When it comes to art and innovation, perhaps China doesn’t come to mind immediately. Shrouded by news and impressions of its technology, industrialization and perhaps rapid modernization of its cities, one will be surprised by its leading art scene, as exemplified by its famous art zones in the country, particularly the ones in Beijing and Shenzhen.
798 Art Zone in Beijing and Overseas Chinese Town (OCT) Loft in Shenzhen in China are great attractions that do not disappoint in terms of art tourism. Believe me, so many destinations have converted old historical buildings to artistic parks, but not everyone does it well, but that is another story for another day.
798 Art Zone (798艺术区) is located further away from the main city centre of Beijing, which takes over the old military factories since the 1990s. What I appreciated was that it really is a city on its own which you can explore for the whole day. From private to public exhibitions, to interesting hand-made artefacts, there are also many wall murals within the zone which call for plenty of instagrammable moments.
I guess what intrigued me the most is how art here is still influenced by its political ideologies. I remembered very well one of the exhibitions with cows, where they were used to inculcate values of being tirelessly hardworking, with the aim of achieving greater success as a whole. There are even sculptures of caged personnel which I find to be extremely risqué according to Chinese’s context.
I should also mention the metal rotunda in the art zone which was previously the venue of Armani’s 2012 fashion show. Gracefully dilapidated, I would host a fashion show here if I had the chance to.
Aside from international and local art galleries, you would be surprised to see a nice boutique hotel nestled in this bustling area. I was kindly invited over for high tea at Gracie Art Hotel, an interesting complex which holds art and fashion events in one arm, and rooms and restaurants on the other.
Who would have imagined such an artistic region in Beijing?
OCT Loft Culture Park (华侨城创意文化园) in Shenzhen is relatively new to the scene as a whole, along with its digital and tech hubs which only started thriving about 10 years ago. The content is not as exciting and interesting compared to Beijing’s 798, but there is still much to explore in this area.
Here, you can find many furniture stores, book stores, gift shops, galleries, design studios etc… it does make you feel like art is being created and distributed from this epicentre. That’s what differentiates from other art zones in Asia.
On most Saturdays, indie designers showcase their limited-edition products in a flea market which takes over a long section of the art zone. When you do feel tired, there are plenty of drinks and great noodle restaurants, which I heard are exceptionally good in the Southern parts of China.
Please open your mind and take your time to appreciate the art presented in these 2 locations. I would say it gives plenty to think about, and it makes me wonder if we have been doing art wrongly in the first place.