Distractions, reflections

David Ing, at large … Sometimes, my mind wanders

2008/03/09 798 Art Zone, Beijing

Many people go to China to see ancient classics, but I would rather see the works produced by contemporary Chinese artists. As the major leisure activity on this trip to Beijing, Eric and I went to the 798 Art Zone. We took a taxi cross town that dropped us by the large numbers at the north entrance on the west side.

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Just inside the gate is a large billboard mapping out the district. The area isn’t completely filled out yet, and it would still take more than a single day to see everything.

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Also knowns as the Dashanzi art district, the original buildings are 1950s-era Soviet and East German designed factories.

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On this sunny day, there was art both inside and outside the buildings.

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The variety of contemporary art ranges from young subjects …

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… to the more mature.

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Some galleries had more conceptual works. Here’s some tree tripods …

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… and room with spots on the floor.

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A set of red stacked boulders is a durable landmark.

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The Mao suit recalls communist fashion. I’m unsure whether the graffiti was by the artist or a vandal.

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The factory buildings are known for their large open spaces, with skylights providing natural light. This is a great setting to show art.

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The spaciousness is a luxury that displays artistic works well.

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Some streets look a little tough, but the graffiti is more than just tags.

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Some more complete drawings have enough imagery to tell a story.

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It’s fun to fit in with life-sized sculpture.

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The People Series 1 by Liu Ruowang is more than life-sized.

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Looping back toward the west entrance, this meaning of this large installation wasn’t immediately clear.

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From the front view, I presume that the artist is male, with a Tinkerbell obsession (and a warped perspective on feminity).

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A more modest sculpture is a stacked set of smiles.

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We were hungry, so out the west gate, we crossed over to the shops on the other side.

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Since Eric had 6 months of experience of living in Beijing, he was more than competent to place the order for lunch.

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We ordered a well-balanced meal with meats and vegetables. This was definitely not southern style Cantonese cooking.

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After lunch, we crossed back east over the bridge.

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The Building Code Violations II exhibition was featured at the Long March Space.

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As we entered, there was row of lockers to the left. We were unsure about whether we were supposed to check our belongings.

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As we puzzled, doors randomly opened and closed. It’s art!

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I’m not sure whether the duct into the sidecar of the motorcycle was imagery on venting exhausts, or a path for riders to slide in.

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The overturned van continued to have a red flashing light inside.

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This installation used to be a real functioning vehicle.

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An installation by Xu Zhen had an orderly line of mice parading down a wall.

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Water fell around the cage in this alcove.

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Even on a Sunday, construction on the district continued. This photograph may look orderly, but that’s the demolition by a backhoe, not art!

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In the back alleys, some of the features — such as a circular door — reflect Chinese architecture.

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While a workman was setting the concrete on the edge of sidewalk …

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… an musician performed guitar with a portable amplifer, selling CDs.

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At the New Age Gallery, Zhang Yong Zheng had a solo exibition called Mysterious Rhythm.

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A painting spanning an entire wall, Twenty Four Solar Terms is related to the Chinese agricultural calendar.

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A yet-to-be-finished gallery was advertising a future show by Wu Guanzhong. This artist is noted for having sold a painting in 2007 for $4.8 million.

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We could hear a lot of construction noises coming out of an open hallway.

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When completed, the building will be structured as an internal mall, where art is already behind large display windows.

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The JoyArt gallery is a distinctive rectangular brick building with large doors.

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Immediately inside those large doors was a wall labelling the exhibit by Wang LuYan titled The Other Side of Totality.

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Walking around that wall, the floor was a concrete mound. On all walls were illustrations of mechanisms.

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One wall had an entry into another room.

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In that room was a large trench. Was this the other side?

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Coming out of the room with the trench, the mechanistic illustrations on the other walls were visible.

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Down the street, we found another gallery with high windows.

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In addition to visitors taking snapshots, a few people came with video cameras.

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A diptych by Sun Kan was titled Position.

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Late in the afternoon, the sun was shifting to leave some galleries dim.

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Towards the northeast edge of the district was a large building with large banners.

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The chop in the ground in the front entry illustrated the investment in this installation. I didn’t initially notice the logo in the upper right.

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We couldn’t find a handle to open the doors … and then tall doors automatically parted. We walked into a dim space, and up a spiral staircase. The second floor was filled with strange shapes.

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From the stairs, looking down to the other end of that level, we saw people sitting on steps.

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When we walked to that end of the space, we could then see movies being played on the screen below eye level. This was the Nike 706 gallery.

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Back down the stairs were some additional displays.

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The number 23 signals Nike’s Jordan brand.

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Filling out the sports theme was a gallery of basketball jerseys.

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After a full day of viewing contemporary Chinese art, the Nike gallery was a jarring commercial exposition. China hasn’t had a history of media advertising as we have in the west, so local people haven’t developed similar aversions towards certain types of advertising.

Later, I had a discussion with one of Eric’s student friends about the 798 Art Zone. He felt that the style was too westernized, and preferred more classical collections. In contrast, I prefer to see works — when possible — of living artists. The 798 art zone demonstrates that art in China is not a cottage industry, but a flourishing community and business at level of other leading cities in the world.

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