Monday, May 31, 2010

Amy Chou
A Little History of 798 Dashanzi Art District

798 Dashanzi Art District in Beijing's Chaoyang District, compared
to many other creative centers, such as M50 in Shanghai, has a unique
history of its own. 798 was originally built by the East German
government as reparations for World War II. The strange thing is that
those reparations were meant for the Soviet Union. The factory
buildings were built as an example of a "harmonious collaboration
between Socialist countries" and the efforts were led by the Soviet
Union. The complex, built during the 1960s, was built in the Bauhaus
style. The style, known for its simplicity and functionality,
symbolized Mao's ideals of "an advanced Socialist state founded on
heavy industry and Communist ideology." Eventually in the 1990s, the
spacious military electronics factories were abandoned when the
government began to decrease its subsidies for state-run factories.

The first group of artists to use the abandoned complex as art
studios was from the Central Academy of Fine Arts. The large spaces
with many windows for natural light and cheap rent seemed perfect for
the school's sculpture department. Around the same time, an artists'
village near the Old Summer Palace was shutdown by the government.
Contemporary artists, who were evicted from their run-down houses in
1993 and seeking new refuge, discovered 798 and began moving in. While
converting the factories into gallery spaces, many of the artists
requested that the construction workers preserve the high-sweeping
arches of the ceilings and the Communist slogans. The simple factory
facades, red bricks, and old slogans act as echoes from the past.

798 Dashanzi Art District seems to be disconnected from the rest of
Beijing. Compared to the hustle and bustle of the city, 798's serene,
tree-lined roads create the perfect haven for artists and visitors
alike. Due to government restrictions on where foreigners could live
in the 1990s, Chaoyang District became a central location for foreign
embassies and institutions. The galleries in 798 received much foreign
exposure when they first started up and now rely solely on 798's name
to attract visitors from all around the globe.

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