Art in Beijing
by Brian Libby
With Beijing hosting the 2008 Summer Olympic Games, the Chinese government has sought, like a typical Olympic host, to make a statement about the country's progress. In China's case, this has included some ambitious and high-profile architecture projects, such as Herzog & de Meuron's spectacular bird's-nest-like National Stadium.
But some of the more telling symbols of sociocultural change are located beyond the Olympic Green — in Beijing's 798 Art District and the new institution at its center, the Ullens Center for Contemporary Art (UCCA).
The 798 occupies a complex of defunct government factories and warehouses dating to the 1950s. Located in the Dashanzi industrial district, the 798 has been renovated into over 300 art galleries, studios, and cafes as part of a new official Beijing cultural district.
Chinese art has become very popular on the international market, even though as recently as the early 1980s there were scarcely any artists working in a contemporary manner under China's Communist regime. But that began to change in the mid-1980s, as the nation opened up to the West and moved toward a market economy.
UCCA's opening exhibit in November 2007, "'85 New Wave Movement: The Birth of Chinese Contemporary Art," included a host of works by such seminal artists as Wang Guangyi, Xu Bing, and Gu Dexin.
The architecture of Ullens Center is as interesting as the artwork inside. French architect Jean-Michel Wilmotte was lead designer for the renovation, collaborating with Chinese architect Qingyun Ma.
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