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Originally posted by CAFA ART INFO with additional edits by ArtChina UK.

IMAGE: “Beijing Flash Biennale—The Evolution of Beijing’s Art Districts & Studios” 

What does a site mean to artists? Is it a place of life, of art creation, or the art itself?

With the development of modern society, the sites where artist groups gather are conceptualised; they become unique cultural symbols. Such a site enables artists independence and freedom, while the reality of survival makes them gather and scatter. In this case, “site” becomes a significant layer in terms of touching artists and their artworks, as well as a crucial fundamental point in terms of researching the phenomenon of the gathering of artist groups.

IMAGE: The Preparation of the Exhibition

IMAGE: Exhibition View

“Beijing Flash Biennale—The Evolution of Beijing’s Art Districts & Studios” was exhibited in 9 Art Museum, and narrates the migration route of Beijing art districts that were developed by sites and artists from the end of the 1980s until the present day.

The exhibition delves into some of the realities of Chinese contemporary art history, sifts through some of these “sites” and the role they play in the survival of artists, and therefore creates a unique research topic. The birthplaces, the exhibiting venues and the final destinations of artworks are separated by an invisible distance, which is easily ignored by us. The significance of these sites to contemporary artists and the creation of their artworks makes their impermanence an unavoidable problem. It turns out that the environment in which art is created is hugely important.

IMAGE: Exhibition View

The exhibition showcases the evolution of art districts in Beijing. On the exhibition walls, ample space is used to record both existing and vanished art districts in Beijing, which allows viewers to understand the origin of Beijing art districts and their evolution, in which a new space is always in the process of building interest. Digging into the migration route of the Beijing art districts is intriguing. The records of art districts from 1990 to 2019 give a sizeable amount of valuable material that needs to to be researched.

At the end of the 1980s, the Old Summer Place (aka. Yuanmingyuan Park) in the western suburb of Beijing accepted a group of young people who were engaged in art. They were eager to get rid of the restrictions of the system and to practice independent art creation. They have cultivated the flower of the new era of art on the historical ruins of the Old Summer Place. With the formation of concepts such as Political Pop Art and Cynical Realism, artists Fang Lijun, Yue Minjun among others were becoming famous. It turned the Old Summer Place into a national artists’ dream destination and attracted an increasing number of artists to move in.

IMAGE: Exhibition View

IMAGE: Tan Ping, “Untitled”, 200 x 300 cm

Infancy Period

The early 1990s was the burgeoning period of the Beijing art districts, which was mainly demonstrated by the rise of Painter Village in Yuanmingyuan (圆明园画家村). Artists Fang Lijun, Hua Qing, Zhang Dali, Mou Sen, Gao Bo, Zhang Nian and Kang Mu, among others, gathered there. In 1995, Painter Village in Yuanmingyuan was forced to be cleaned due to a government notice, which turned the ruins of the Qing Dynasty once again into the ruins of art. In this circumstance, artists scattered to all corners of Beijing. Using this as an opportunity, the evolution of Beijing art districts officially commenced.

Development Period

During the entire 1990s, Beijing art districts gradually developed in the Binhe Unit in Tong Zhou District (通州滨河小区[原文宾河小区]) and East Village Art District (东村艺术区). Later on, Song Zhuang Art District (宋庄艺术区), Bei Gangzi Art District (北岗子艺术区) and Shang Yuan Art District (上苑艺术区) appeared in the late 1990s.

Blowout Period

After 2000, art districts such as 798 Art District, Hua Jiadi Community (花家地群落), Feijiacun Art District (费家村艺术区), Caochangdi Art District (草场地艺术区), 9-Art District (酒厂-ART国际艺术区), No.1 in Five Rings Art District (五环一号艺术区) and Suojiafen Art District (索家坟艺术区) appeared as well.

Prosperous Period

From 2006 to 2010 was the period of prosperity in the development of the Beijing Art Districts. Art districts such as the Left and Right Art District, No.1 International Art District, Huan Tie International Art District, Bei Gao Art District, among others, appeared in succession.

Dispersion and Migration Period

It was between 2010 to 2017 that the development of Beijing art districts entered the period of dispersion and migration. Sun He Art District (孙河艺术区), Bei Tang Art District (北塘艺术区) and Yong He Art District (雍和艺术区) etc. appeared during this period.

Star-Shaped Distribution

From 2017 till now, the distribution of art districts in Beijing transformed into a star shape. Art districts such as Bai Ma Art District (白马艺术区), Shun Yi T3 Art District (顺义T3艺术区) etc., appeared in succession.

IMAGE: Zhan Wang, “1 square meter of Land”

IMAGE: Wang Qingsong, “Goddess”

The evolution history of Beijing art districts from the 1990s to the present day has spanned various periods and experienced multi-dimensional spatial differences. However, the transformation of time and space is only representative. The rise and fall of art districts created a game between different powers outside of the art world.

With the requirements of the process of urbanization in Beijing, the demolition of several art districts has forced artists to migrate. The migration, although with complex pain, proves the resilience of artists. The value of early art districts lies in providing motivations of art creation to artists. However, art districts in this era, such as 798 Art District, have developed their art values utilizing systematic art management. The success of 798 Art District has gradually developed a commercial method or mode to fit into art districts. By doing so, art districts are becoming increasingly formal and commercial, and the value of the artist cluster is gradually expanded.

IMAGE: Ji Zi, “Paint Spirit by Form”, 184 x 145 cm

IMAGE: He Yunchang, “A Bowl of Noodles”

There is another exhibition space beyond the migration route of the Beijing art districts that echoes the theme of this exhibition. By displaying artworks from artists living in various art districts, the relationship between an artwork’s origin and termination is unconsciously considered by viewers. The works in this space compensate for the missing content in the first section, and inspire audiences to reflect on the influences of different artworks.

This is an exhibition based on long-term research. The evolution of the Beijing art districts has become a vital footprint for the development of Chinese contemporary art and gradually showcases the significance of the current situation. The exhibition turns the direction of the research regarding Chinese contemporary art to a new field, namely, the relationship between the sites that artists are living in and the production and development of art. Although not being presented directly in the exhibition, it is implied in the content of the exhibition that it should be a result based on great efforts in research.

The exhibition narrates history and today’s reality, proving that the present is constantly moving forward based on the memories of the past.

Text by Lin Lu
Translated by Emily Weimeng Zhou
Edited by Sue/CAFA ART INFO
Photo courtesy of the organizer

If you missed it, read our blog post about the recent demolition of Beijing’s Huantie Art District