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Chelsea and SoHo Style:
The Contemporary Art Scene in Beijing and Shanghai

by Athena Tacha

When I went to western China last year, I stopped for a few days to see contemporary art in Beijing and Shanghai, which I had previously visited in 1993. The two cities were now fully Westernized and unrecognizable. Both of them have several areas of contemporary art activity, but I only had time to visit a couple in each. Beijing’s largest and best known is Dashanzi 798 Art District—two dozen city blocks of art galleries and shops flanking 798 Road (off the Airport Expressway), many housed in unused factory buildings. Compared to Chelsea, Dashanzi 798 is ampler and more vulgarly commercialized—a combination of serious, pretentious, and mediocre art galleries and a bazaar. The huge Ullens Center is central to 798: fancy immaculate spaces (reminiscent of Dia:Beacon) with sparse and often grandiose installations, accompanied by affected critical texts to educate visitors (who have to pay a 20-Yuan entrance fee). Several other commercial galleries require an entrance fee, prohibit photography, and do not supply bios of the artists. Some of the galleries imitate the most uppity ones in Chelsea, with incommunicado zombies at their front desks, a single artwork installed per each huge wall, and endless empty spaces on which to meditate.

Red Town Sculpture Park, Shanghai.


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