The art factory – China

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Industrial relic transformed into thriving creative art center that helps fuel growing demand for Chinese works

Visitors enjoy the works of art in a 798 Art Zone gallery in Beijing’s Chaoyang district. Supplied to China Daily

At its peak 50 years ago, it was considered one of the best factories in China, with up to 20,000 workers producing electronic equipment for military and civilian use. Joint Factory 798 went into decline in the 1980s, and today few people have probably even heard of it. But it was the ancestor of 798 Art Zone, which blossomed into a place that enjoys worldwide fame.

Complex 798 in the Chaoyang District, northeast of Beijing, has attracted modern and contemporary artists, galleries, and institutions from around the world.

Over the past 10 years, the neighborhood has been so successful that it’s often compared to SoHo in New York City, a thriving creative neighborhood teeming with lofts and artist galleries. Driven by the booming Chinese art market, art galleries in many countries, including Pace Beijing, the subsidiary of Pace Wildenstein in the United States, and Raab Galerie in Germany, are exploring business and artistic opportunities in China. .

The more than 200 art-related organizations clustered in the region make up China’s most successful arts community, according to the 798 Art Zone website.

The art factory

A baby sculpture outside in the 798 Art Zone. [Photo by Lin Jing / China Daily]

Song Xinyu, curator of Raab China, explains that Raab’s decision to open its first overseas branch in China was sparked by the boom in the Chinese art market from 2006 to 2007.

At that time, the works of many contemporary artists in 798, such as Yue Minjun and Zhang Xiaogang, were auctioning for millions of dollars in the West.

The market continued to explode and, according to the Hurun Art List 2012, the sales value of the top 50 artists was 7.86 billion yuan ($ 1.24 billion), an increase of 88% over the previous year. year before and 4.5 times the 2010 figure.

The Hurun List said that an oil painting by Zhang Xiaogang, Forever-Lasting Love, was China’s most expensive oil painting last year, selling for 66.57 million yuan. .

Song says that aside from the rapid boom in the Chinese art market, what drew Raab to 798 was the fact that it was created by the artists themselves.

“Works of art and artists need freedom. This is very important. The reason why so many artists have moved in is the low rent and the large spaces, which are quite suitable for artistic creation. As soon as the artist community formed, many art institutions and galleries moved in. “

The other thing Raab says he appreciates the most is the fame of the 798. Song says that with the frequent art exchanges between China and the world, 798 has become the place for foreigners to learn about them. latest developments in modern and contemporary art in China.

Federica Beltrame, director of Galleria Continua, an Italian gallery in 798, says what makes 798 so valuable is that it is a beautiful industrial area which still retains some of its German Bauhaus architecture from origin. “It is itself architecturally and artistically interesting itself, which is why art is naturally drawn to places with historical traces and historical significance.”

Lu Jingjing, artistic director of Beijing Commune, an art gallery founded in 2004, says 798 has natural advantages to encourage artists.

“This area is close to the Central Academy of Fine Arts, which cultivates young artists every year. Apart from that, the arts area is on the outskirts of the city, where startups can get office space and office space. ‘low-cost exhibition. “

Most galleries operate by selling works in collaboration with artists, creating a direct link between the value of the works and how the gallery is doing financially.

Raab focuses on oil paintings, works on paper, prints, sculpture and photography. Although Song does not give any details, he says that Raab China’s annual sales have increased by 20-30% every year since arriving in China.

The gallery promotes cultural exchange between East and West by recommending outstanding Chinese artists to the international market and showcasing the thoughts, ideas and works of international artists in China.

Song says the gallery works with many collectors and organizations looking for young artists under 35 who specialize in abstract painting who demonstrate enormous potential.

Last year, an exhibition was held in Berlin for Zhang Jing, a surrealist artist, and more than half of her works have been sold. Raab will hold another exhibition for her in Berlin this month and a group exhibition for six Chinese artists in Dubai, United Arab Emirates next month.

Comparing the markets in China and abroad, Song claims that exported art is more successful because foreign collectors are more familiar with Chinese artwork.

“Chinese collectors are willing to buy works by Picasso, but they may not be able to appreciate the paintings of some contemporary and modern German artists, simply because they don’t know much about those works. So there are actually two aspects to what we do: sell art and promote art. “

Lu, from Beijing Municipality, says that in today’s China, shopping malls are the site of the most innovative artistic activities. But selecting artists and managing their careers comes with huge risks, she says. “We certainly hope that our artists will all see an appreciation for their work in the future, but the market is unpredictable.”

The Beijing Commune acts as an agent, managing exhibitions, promotion and sales after the artists have completed their work.

“All we have to do is assess various aspects of an artist to present the academic significance of their works to potential collectors in the market,” says Lu.

However, the enthusiasm in China to invest in art in recent years is not without its skeptics.

The art factory

When We Get Angry, an oil painting by Liu Liguo. [Photo by Li Wenming / China Daily]

Rosario Scarpato, founding partner and managing director of OffiCina, an Italian conservation agency in 798, says it’s good if people have money to collect works of art, but for some the main draw of 798 is the financial gain from the sale of Chinese art.

“Direct investment in art can stimulate the market and all its sectors, but to preserve and creatively stimulate the freedom of artists, we hope that such investment does not become ubiquitous to influence markets and minds. “

The neighborhood was once geared towards the high end, but it has widened. It is now becoming a must-see for visitors to the capital, and thousands of people flock to its galleries every week.

But this success did not come without difficulties. Sometimes there were strong differences of opinion between the landlord and the tenants. At one point there was even talk of closure, and after the 2008 financial crisis many art galleries closed and stores replaced them. The neighborhood is now heavily commercialized and nowadays you are almost as likely to see fashion shows, clothing design studios, souvenir shops and cafes as you would see exhibits.

Gu Zhenqing, an independent exhibition organizer, said that while it wouldn’t be a bad thing if more people came to the area, the commercialization reduced the artistic element and turned it into a shopping street similar to upscale Wangfujing Street in central Beijing.

In line with the growing importance of the art market, rising rents have driven out some artists. Average rents have increased by nearly 700% in 10 years to reach 4 yuan per square meter per day.

Foreign art galleries are not immune to such problems. Beltrame, of Galleria Continua, says the company’s sales in China are still limited as local collectors continue to focus on Chinese artists.

“We are therefore supported by our main Italian gallery”, says Beltrame

Gu, a former curator of galleries such as the Duolun Museum of Modern Art in Shanghai and the Museum of Modern Art in 798, says the mix of art galleries and shops selling cheap goods poses a danger to the artist. ‘art.

“With so many visitors, artists can find it difficult to concentrate on their work, although this offers opportunities for business contacts.”

He suggests that authorities strictly screen who is authorized to operate at 798.

“We should encourage serious fine arts institutions and academic institutions to stay by offering lower rents and favorable policies. Otherwise, visitors will soon find that 798 is no longer an art area but a commercial street. . “

The Beijing Morning Post recently reported that three nearby factories are to be rebuilt in an effort to develop cultural and creative industries with 798.

The newly mapped districts will be north and south of 798, covering approximately 350,000 square meters. The work will be completed in three years, when the Dashanzi region, according to the Beijing Morning Post, is expected to generate 50 billion yuan in revenue per year.

Gu predicts that the next three years will be crucial for 798, and the region should make more efforts to modernize the structure of the industry there.

The expansion project should consider more organizations that could support the current development of artistic institutions, he said. Otherwise, more art galleries clustered together could saturate the market, Gu says.

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