Contemporary art in Beijing: Art Radar guide

Make the most of your next visit to Beijing with the latest Art Radar city guide. 

Next to Shanghai, Beijing is the other important artistic hub in China. We bring you a city art guide dedicated to Beijing’s vibrant and ever-growing art scene, highlighting both well-known and smaller but equally engaging galleries and art spaces.

Beijing Centre for the Arts (BCA) in its new location in a traditional-style courtyard building. In the background are artworks by Yan Peiming. Image courtesy BCA.

Beijing Centre for the Arts (BCA) in its new location in a traditional-style courtyard building. In the background are artworks by Yan Peiming. Image courtesy BCA.

Contemporary art in China emerged in the 1980s as an underground movement, with exhibitions held in living rooms and secret locations. Today, it has become mainstream with hundreds of galleries exhibiting works by contemporary Chinese artists and auction lots that fetch millions of US dollars. Works by contemporary Chinese artists are now frequently showcased overseas in art fairs and exhibited in Western art institutions. With thousands of fine art graduates in China each year and the strong economic performance of Chinese contemporary art, it is no wonder that most galleries in Beijing, whether local or foreign-owned, exhibit almost exclusively Chinese contemporary art.

Beijing’s art districts

This guide focuses on two major art zones in Beijing, but will also briefly mention others.

798 art zone

The best known, and now most commercialised area is the 798 Art District. Besides many galleries, there are also cafés and restaurants as well as design and furniture shops in this area. It is characterised by Bauhaus-style factory buildings built in the early 1950s that have been converted into gallery and exhibition spaces. Initially, the district was sought out by artists for studios and gallery space due to its low rent and favourable light conditions. Once bigger galleries moved in and the area was gentrified, rents skyrocketed forcing many galleries to look elsewhere. Tour buses arriving regularly with hundreds of tourists might have also prompted many galleries to move out.

Caochangdi

This gallery exodus partly led to the creation of the other art district northeast of 798, called Caochangdi. Far quieter and with almost no commercial activity catering to tourists, few venture here unless they are serious art lovers. Several high quality galleries can be found here. Many of the gallery spaces and artist studios in Caochangdi were designed by artist/architect Ai Weiwei, including his own.

Tseng Yong-Ning, 'Beautiful Future' (2010-2013),, pen on paper, 75x107cm. Image courtesy Soka Art Center, Beijing.

Tseng Yong-Ning, ‘Beautiful Future’, 2010-2013, pen on paper, 75 x 107 cm. Image courtesy Soka Art Center, Beijing.

When to visit

Beijing’s winters are relatively cold and dry and the summers are very hot and humid. The best times to visit are in the spring, from the end of April to the beginning of June, and in the fall, from the beginning of September to the end of October.

During these months, one can participate in the many events at Beijing Design Week, swing by the Independent Film Festival or browse the Surge Art show. There are many gallery openings during this time as well.

Getting around 

Beijing has an extensive and cost-effective public transport system. However, as a newcomer to the city it might be a bit daunting to navigate your way around it. Taxis are also reasonably priced by international standards. Most taxi drivers only speak Mandarin, so it is best to call the gallery and ask them to give directions to the driver or ask your hotel staff to help you.

Fourth floor of the Central Academy of Fine Arts Museum, Beijing. Image courtesy of CAFA.

Fourth floor of the Central Academy of Fine Arts Museum, Beijing. Image courtesy CAFA.

Where to see contemporary art in Beijing

Museums (a selection)

  • Central Academy of Fine Art Museum (CAFA Museum) – The art school’s museum has been in existence since 1953 and moved to its current location in Wangjing in 2008. It is part of the Central Academy of Fine Art campus and is housed in a building designed by Japanese architect Arata Isozaki. Exhibitions include works by members of its academia and students from various art departments, as well as from its extensive and diverse art collection. In order to promote exchange with foreign artists, there are also shows exhibiting the works of international artists. Lectures are frequently held on the premises. Address: No.8 Hua Jia Di Nan St., Chaoyang District
  • National Art Museum of China – Run by the city, this museum has a collection of contemporary art, mainly paintings and some sculpture, many in a more traditional vein by primarily Chinese artists but also some international artists. Address: No.1 Wusi Main Street, Dongcheng District, Beijing
  • Today Art Museum (TAM)Situated in one of the last remaining large red-brick factory buildings in this neighbourhood in the South of Beijing, this private art museum was founded in 2002. It is not situated in 798 or Caochangdi art districts, but has attracted other galleries to open around it and is now the hub of art activity in this part of town. It claims to be China’s first not-for-profit, non-governmental art museum. It promotes established local and emerging artists, as well as some international artists. A dynamic young team of museum professionals coupled with a large and varied exhibition space allows for the showing of as many as eighty exhibitions per year, several running concurrently. Besides its numerous exhibitions, TAM is also active in organising seminars, art education for kids and art publications. Address: Building 4, Pingod Community, No.32 Baiziwan Road, Chaoyang District
  • Beijing Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) Founded in 2007 by the artist Qin Feng, it seeks to promote appreciation of contemporary art, both Chinese and international. It holds three to five exhibitions per year, collaborates with international museums and organises seminars. Address: No. 500, Daxing Zhuang Songzhuang Town, Tongzhou District
  • Red Brick Contemporary Art Museum – A non-profit art museum focused on the collection, research and exhibition of contemporary world and Chinese art, which strives to promote the exchange and development of contemporary art. Address: Hegezhuang Village, Cuigezhuang Township, Chaoyang District
Sui Jianguo’s dinosaurs in front of the entrance of the Ullens Center for Contemporary Art (UCCA), 798 Art District. Image courtesy UCCA.

Sui Jianguo’s dinosaurs in front of the entrance of the Ullens Center for Contemporary Art (UCCA), 798 Art District. Image courtesy UCCA.

Not-for-profit galleries (a selection)

  • Ullens Center for Contemporary Art (UCCA) UCCA is an independent, not-for-profit art centre founded by Belgian collectors Guy and Myriam Ullens and opened its doors in 2007. The large red dinosaur sculptures by artist Sui Jianguo in front of its entrance have not only become synonymous with UCCA, but are a point of reference and orientation for the many visitors to 798 art district. UCCA was initially engaged in showing the vast collection of contemporary Chinese art that its founders had collected over the years, but has now expanded its scope and invites artists to create site-specific installations, introduces foreign artists to the Chinese audience, and offers a wide range of public programmes such as talks and forums, art cinema, live performances, workshops, and family and school programmes. Address: 798 Art District, No. 4 Jiuxianqiao Lu, Chaoyang District
  • Taikang Space This institution supports, funds and exhibits the work of established artists as well as emerging experimental Chinese artists and serves as a research platform for those interested in exploring shifting developments in the contemporary art scene. It receives its financial backing from the Chinese insurance company Taikang Life and keeps adding to its permanent collection of modern and contemporary Chinese art. Address: Red No. 1-B2, Cuigezhuang, Caochangdi, Chaoyang District
  • Enjoy Museum of Art Relatively new to the Beijing art scene, this is a private, non-profit gallery. Shows are often curated by well-recognised names and artworks displayed are by a mix of established and young artists. The gallery often collaborates with art academies, such as in winter 2013, when there was an exhibition of art works by graduate and post-graduate students of the internationally acclaimed artist Xu Bing, then Vice-President of CAFA. Address: B06 2 Jiuxianqiao Lu, 798 Art District, Chaoyang District
  • ArtMia This non-profit foundation was established in 2006 and is committed to initiating, presenting and supporting Asian contemporary art around the world. Exhibitions are supplemented by lectures and publications. Address: 261 Caochangdi, Airport Service Road Chaoyang District
Interior view of Beijing Tokyo Art Projects. Image courtesy Beijing Tokyo Art Projects.

Interior view of Beijing Tokyo Art Projects. Image courtesy Beijing Tokyo Art Projects.

Commercial art galleries in 798 Art Zone 

  • 798 Photo Gallery Established in 2003, this small gallery is dedicated solely to promoting photography and consistently provides its audience with interesting shows, mainly by local and occasionally international artists. Address: 798 Art District, 4 Jiuxianqiao Road, Chaoyang District
  • Beijing Tokyo Art Projects (BTAP) Founded in Tokyo as early as 1950, it opened its Beijing branch in 2002 with a focus on promoting works by established and mid-career contemporary artists from China, Japan and Korea. Its mission is to discover new talents and further promote the works of now established artists. Address: Ceramics Third Street, 798 Art zone E02, 4 Jiuxianqiao Rd., Chaoyang District
  • Long March Space One of the earliest art spaces in 798, founded by curator Lu Jie in 2002. It promotes the work of established and emerging contemporary Chinese artists, many of whose works are highly experimental and cutting-edge. The gallery also actively participates in several art fairs. Address: 4 Jiuxianqiao Road, Chaoyang District
  • Beijing Commune Founded in 2004 in the 798 art district, the gallery has served as a launching pad for many of China’s now internationally recognised artists and continues to serve as an incubator for a new generation of younger artists. Address: 798 Art Zone, No.4 Jiuxianqiao Road, Chaoyang District
  • Xin Dong Cheng Space for Contemporary Art – One of the early players in the gallery scene of the city, the gallery was founded in 2000. It exhibits mainly Chinese but also western artists. The gallery regularly participates in art fairs and has opened two new gallery spaces in Beijing in the last three years. Address: 798 Art District, Dashanzi, Jiu Xian Qiao Lu No. 4, Chaoyang District
  • Galleria Continua Originally founded in Italy in 1990, Galleria Continua expanded to Beijing in 2005, consistently providing high calibre shows, many of which are site-specific. Although the gallery’s main aim is to promote international contemporary art in China, it also exhibits more established contemporary Chinese artists not only in Beijing, but also in France and Italy. Address: 798 Art District #8503, 2 Jiuxianqiao Road, Chaoyang District
  • Boers-Li Gallery This gallery was founded in 2005 with a roster consisting of mainly mid-career to mature Chinese contemporary artists whose works span installation, sculpture, painting, works on paper, audio work, photography, video, film, performance and digital art. Address: No. 1, 706 Houjie, 798 Art District, 2 Jiuxianqiao Lu, Chaoyang District
  • Pace Beijing The well-known powerhouse New York gallery has since 2008 had a presence in Beijing, with exhibitions by local and international artists. Their roster includes many international heavyweights such as Chinese contemporary artists Song Dong, Yin Xiuzhen, Yue Minjun and Zhang XiaogangAddress: 798 Art District, No. 2 Jiuxianqiao Road, Chaoyang District
  • Soka Art Center – Founded in 1992, the Taiwanese art gallery has been active in Beijing since 2001, promoting not only contemporary and modern Chinese artists, but also artists from other Asian countries. Address: 798 Art District, No.4 Jiuxianqiao Road, Chaoyang District
  • Tang Contemporary Art The gallery was founded in 2000 and has set as its goal the promotion of Chinese contemporary art to Chinese and international audiences. Tang Contemporary Art showcases some mature Chinese artists as well as some international ones. Besides Beijing, it has two other galleries in Bangkok and Hong Kong. The gallery regularly participates in art fairs. Address: Gate No.2, 798 Factory, Jiuxianqiao Road, Chaoyang District
  • Hadrien de Montferrand GalleryFocuses on original works on paper by established and emerging, predominantly Chinese contemporary artists. Address: 798 Art District, No 4 Jiuxianqiao Lu, Chaoyang District
Exterior of Galerie Urs Meile Beijing-Lucerne, Beijing. Image courtesy the gallery.

Exterior of Galerie Urs Meile Beijing-Lucerne, Beijing. Image courtesy the gallery.

Commercial art galleries in Caochangdi Art District

  • White Space Beijing The gallery’s focus since its opening in 2004 has been the promotion of contemporary Chinese art on the international stage through well-curated exhibitions, participation at international art fairs and publications. It has been successful in actively seeking out and promoting young emerging artists at home and abroad. Address: No. 255 Caochangdi, Airport Service Rd, Chaoyang District
  • Galerie Urs Meile Beijing-Lucerne This Swiss gallery was established in 1992 and opened its Beijing location in 2005 in a complex designed by Ai Weiwei. The gallery promotes international contemporary art by both established and emerging artists from China, Europe and the United States. The gallery regularly participates in art fairs and has a regular and high-quality schedule of exhibitions. Address: No. 104 Caochangdi, Chaoyang District
  • Three Shadows Photography Art Center (TSPA) Founded in 2007, the Centre is the first contemporary art space dedicated exclusively to photography and video art in China. Besides regular exhibitions by both local and foreign artists, it often holds lectures and seminars. One way in which it promotes photography in China is through its annual TSPA Award, which is becoming ever more popular with hundreds submitting their works. In addition, there is the Three Shadows +3 gallery, which acts as the commercial arm of the Art Centre. An extensive library dedicated to photography and a small coffee shop are also part of the centre. Address: 155A Caochangdi, Chaoyang District
  • Pékin Fine Arts – Established in 2005, the gallery promotes Asian contemporary art with regular solo and group exhibitions in a variety of media including photography. The gallery regularly participates in art fairs. Many of their artists are now part of well-known international art institutions. The gallery also has a space in Hong Kong. Address: No. 241, Caochangdi Village, Chaoyang District
  • Platform China An experimental art space working exclusively with Chinese contemporary artists. Regularly holds exhibitions and participates in art fairs. It was established in 2008 and has a second gallery in Hong Kong. Address: 319-1 East End Artzone A, Caochangdi, Chaoyang District

Commercial art galleries elsewhere in Beijing 

  • Red Gate Gallery The gallery occupies two floors in one of the city’s historic Ming dynasty watchtowers. In existence since 1991, this is one of the earliest commercial art galleries in Beijing promoting Chinese contemporary art both at home and abroad. It showcases the works of established and emerging artists. Address: Levels 1 & 4, Dongbianmen Watchtower, Dongcheng District
  • Jiali Gallery – A private art gallery that opened in 2012, it is based in the centre of the city. The gallery aims to promote the works of a new generation of Chinese artists who are more open and less restricted by their heritage. Their works are shown alongside artists from other countries creating a dialogue in an intimate setting. The founder has many years’ experience in the Beijing gallery scene through promoting artists who are now some of the biggest names in Chinese contemporary art. Address: 4 Beijixiang Hutong, Dongcheng District

New galleries

  • Beijing Center for the Arts – The space reopened its doors after a long time in spring 2014 in its new location in a traditional-looking Chinese courtyard house. In the past, it boasted many interesting exhibitions including its last large-scale show in the old location at Qianmen 23, showing works by well-known female artist Lin Tianmiao. It promotes dialogue in the areas of contemporary Chinese art, architecture and design. Address: No. 1 Jade River, Ping An Ave, Dongcheng District
  • BM Art – Located a few minutes north-east of 798 north gate, this new gallery was opened in 2012 by a young couple with previous gallery experience. It promotes the work of young artists working in a variety of media from mainland China as well as from Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan. In addition, they hold regular tea parties for club members where they introduce the works of artists to young and upcoming collectors. Address: No. 5 Huan Tie Li, Chaoyang District
  • Intelligentsia Gallery – A fifty-square-metre contemporary art space in one of the hutong neighbourhoods in central Beijing. Opened at the beginning of 2014, it aims to critique the current state of art and hopes to stir up a debate on what the founders feel is a too inward-focused art scene, where only one kind of aesthetic is acceptable and where art is predominantly produced in order to satisfy a buyer. They look for artists from around the globe including Africa, Latin America, Europe and Asia and hold very international shows. In order to promote an intellectual debate to accompany exhibitions, writers are invited to contribute as well. Address: Dong Wang Hutong #11, Dongcheng District
Zheng Zai Dong artist talk at ArtMia Foundation on the occasion of his exhibition “My Mind in Unsullied Langour: Revisiting Then and There”, 2013. Image courtesy ArtMia Foundation.

Zheng Zai Dong artist talk at ArtMia Foundation on the occasion of his exhibition “My Mind in Unsullied Langour: Revisiting Then and There”, 2013. Image courtesy ArtMia Foundation.

Where to stay: Beijing’s art hotels 

  • Grace Beijing – This small boutique hotel is located within the 798 art district and displays some pieces of contemporary Chinese art throughout its premises. Address: Jiuxianqiao Lu, 2 Hao Yuan, 798 Yishu Qu, 706 Hou Jie 1 Hao
  • Opposite House – This very modern hotel incorporates contemporary Chinese art by artists such as Chen Qingqing and Li Xiaofeng in its permanent collection. It also regularly exhibits new works in collaboration with the city’s art galleries. Address: 11 Sanlitun Lu, Chaoyang district
  • Hotel Éclat Beijing – Situated close to the Ritan Embassy district as part of the new Fangcaodi Parkview Green environmentally-friendly building, this luxury hotel boasts a large amount of art pieces displayed not only in its lobby and common areas, but also in its suites. In addition to works by contemporary Chinese artists, one can also come across works by Salvador Dali and Andy Warhol. The attached luxury shopping mall also houses many large-scale art pieces throughout the retail areas. Address: No. 9, DongDaQiao Road, Chaoyang District

An emerging trend

A new kind of gallery has started to pop up in Beijing: galleries owned and operated by collectors. It is a venue for them to display and store their often expensive acquisitions of not only Chinese contemporary art, but also art from other countries. Some of these galleries are:

  • M Woods (2014) – located at D-06, 798 Art Zone, No.2 Jiuxianqiao, Chaoyang District
  • EscapeSpace (2013) – located at No. 0103B, Villa 5, Jianwai Soho, Chaoyang District

Nooshfar Afnan

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Related Topics: art districts, art tourism, Chinese art, city art guides, art in Beijing

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