Workshops, performances, reading corners, collage, graffiti walls: the 798 Art District also has a space for children. The International Children's Art Festival (ICAF) organises activities for the whole family in the Friendship Building.
The first of the closed-down factories to be transformed was Factory number 798, and it was from here that the current name for the area, the 798 Art District was born. Since that first transformation, the area grew to become the focus point for contemporary culture, not just in Beijing, but for the whole of China. In this the zone’s second life, art began to flourish both in the sober, unadorned Bauhaus style former factory buildings and out on the streets. Open air exhibitions and street graffiti are the trademark signs of 798, a complete contrast to the Ming Dynasty legacy that still dominates in the majority of the city’s districts.
“I like it when art gives me goose pimples. When that happens, I know I’m looking at something good,” Belgian art collector Guy Ullens tells us. Together with his wife, Guy set up an electronic component factory in 2007. They also set up the Ullens Center of Contemporary Art (UCCA) in the heart of the district. But they didn’t start out empty handed; they contributed their extensive collection of more than 1,500 works by contemporary Chinese artists. UCCA has a full exhibition programme for national and international artists, showcasing new talent while also celebrating established names. Located just a short walk away is the Beijing Commune. When the commune first started, they explored the different forms of contemporary art. Now they organise exhibitions, all focusing on the works of an individual artist. Hanging on the walls are paintings by Zhang Xiaogang, one of China’s most celebrated and valued painters. One of his paintings sold for $12.1 million at Sotherby’s in 2014. And another short walk from the Beijing Commune, is the 798 Photo Gallery serving as a cultural and commercial platform for photographers.