Going to Beijing is a little like embarking on a Chinese safari – we see rare species (
honest dedicated government officials), fascinating landmarks (Olympic Buildings, formerly known as Hutongs), and even blood-curdling adventure (Ring Road traffic at 5 pm).
Beijing (not Shanghai) is the center of China’s independent art scene, with a huge concentration of artists, studios, and galleries. Shanghaiist scouted out the independent gallery scene during our trip last weekend. Some highlights:
Red Gate Gallery at Dongbianmen Watchtower: Highly recommended. A gallery with a setting that can’t be beat—in the middle of a Ming Dynasty watchtower on a restored portion of Beijing’s old City Wall. (See picture.) A gorgeous space, known for showing some of the leading Chinese artists. Staff is extremely friendly and knowledgeable. You have to pay a whole 10 RMB to actually get inside the tower complex (it’s also a tourist attraction) but it’s worth it. Thanks Madeleine for the great suggestions!
(10) 6525 1005. Near Chongwenmen. Here’s a map. There’s also a branch of Red Gate at 798 Art Zone (see below).
Many of the rest are located at the 798 Art Zone complex on the outskirts—about a 30-40 kuai taxi ride from city center. Spend the money. The complex is an old East German-built factory from the 1960s. There must be 60-80 cafes, galleries, and studios in there. Many galleries sell a map of the area, which is helpful in finding your way. (Jiu Xian Qiao Lu at Jiu Xian Qiao Bei Lu, 酒仙桥路在酒仙桥北路.)
798 Photo Gallery: The only gallery in China specializing in photography — or at least according to them (we have our doubts). Currently showing “Chinese on a Train,” featuring, well, Chinese people on trains over the past 10 years—a great snapshot (pardon the pun) of Chinese culture and its recent progression. Also has some outstanding Cultural Revolution photography. (10) 6438 1784.
Chinese Contemporary Gallery: Specializing in provocative contemporary art by internationally known Chinese artists. Watch out for the scary barking dog. (10) 8456 2421.
Timezone 8 Art Books: The best art book shop in Beijing, perhaps in China. The prices aren’t cheap (though the Illy coffee is!) but is a fantastic resource with a wide variety of Chinese and foreign books. (10) 8456 0336.
At Café. A café popular with the gallery and art set. Great for sandwiches, desserts, and people watching. (10) 6438 7264.
Tang Contemporary Art: If you’re into interactive, avant guarde, and installation art, this is the place. Not for the tame “My kid could make that!” set. Lots of fun and also educational, showing another perspective of the art scene. (10) 6436 3518.
Xin Dong Contemporary Art: Originally started by owner Xin Dong at his home, this indoor and outdoor space shows a mix of photography, sculpture, and paintings. Its outdoor space is a great place to relax during sunny weather. (010) 6433 4579.
We’re sure we are missing some places, we being Shanghaiist and not Beijingist — please feel free to add other suggestions in a comment.