Where to Go in Beijing’s 798 Art District
China’s art scene has exploded in the past decade, and there’s no better place a first-time, art-loving visitor to the country’s capital should head than to the 798 Art District. Though some would say it’s become too commercial, anyone interested in contemporary art shouldn't miss this complex of former munitions factories that was converted into an expansive gallery and exhibition space in the mid- to late-1990s, when artists in search of cheap studio space started trickling into the area. Today, 798 is a full-blown tourist attraction with trendy cafés, restaurants, and shop, yet serious galleries and art centers like UCCA, 798 Space, Galleria Continua, Beijing Commune, and Pace Beijing continue to hold thought-provoking exhibitions and public workshops there. Here, a guide to a few can’t-miss galleries (and more) during a visit.
With a collection of more than 1,500 works, the Ullens Center for Contemporary Art (UCCA) represents the largest museum devoted to Chinese contemporary art by both established and emerging artists. Designed by French architect Jean-Michel Wilmotte and Shanghai-based Qingyun Ma, the UCCA—with its distinctive exterior chimney—features an automated system that uses GPS technology to maximize natural light and has two main naves for painting, sculpture, and video; an auditorium; a museum shop and restaurant. As never before, the UCCA makes room for new perspectives on Chinese art.
Galleria Continua launched in Beijing in 2005 with its first exhibit, showcasing 16 artists from around the world, and the gallery has continued its international theme ever since. Over the years, it has hosted shows from the likes of Chen Zhen, Daniel Buren, Loris Cecchini, Lucy + Jorge Orta, Pascale Marthine Tayou, Anish Kapoor and Kendell Geers, as well as monographic and group shows and remains one of the most influential galleries in the country.
Founded in 2004, Beijing Commune has become known for supporting both established and emerging Chinese talent, in mediums ranging from painting and video to sculpture and photography. Notable artists include Zhang Xiaogang, Yue Minjun, Song Dong, Yin Xiuzhen, Hong Hao and Liu Jianhua. The gallery also hosts educational lectures and workshops.
For a mid-gallery-hop caffeine break, head to this New Zealand-inspired cafe. They have their own coffee roastery and churn out expertly made macchiatos, lattes, and of course, their namesake specialty. It’s also an excellent place to start the day, with a full assortment of breakfast options like (homemade muesli, omelettes) and healthy smoothies.
If one day of art just isn’t enough, overnight at Yi House, the first boutique hotel in Beijing’s edgy 798 Art District. You’ll find work by notable locals such as photographer Chi Peng, on view in the 30 cool, gray-walled guest rooms.