“Art Colonies” Springing Up All Over China

Songzhuang Cultural And Arts Festival, Taking Place From September 20 To October 12, Showcases Artwork From Artistic Districts Around The Country

This year's Songzhuang Cultural and Arts Festival follows the success of last year's exhibitions

This year's Songzhuang Cultural and Arts Festival follows the success of last year's exhibitions

Although many art enthusiasts are familiar with Beijing’s larger and more established art districts, such as Dashanzi (大山子) and Caochangdi (草场地), one of the Chinese art world’s best-kept secrets is that the country is home to a number of smaller, more exclusive art communities. Running until October 12, the Songzhuang Cultural and Arts Festival looks to showcase the work of artists from these art colonies — both large and small — and give art lovers a glimpse into the wide range of artwork currently being produced throughout China. Titled “Community! Community!” this festival puts a strong emphasis on the work of artists in distinctly non-mainstream art communities in ten art “zones”:

Artists from ten different art zones in Nanjing, Chengdu, Xi’an, Wuhan and Changsha. were invited to display their artworks. Each art district has a separate location at the festival, featuring recently created artworks by artists representing each community.

Thirteen large-scale art museums and galleries, such as the Songzhuang Art Museum, Sunshine International Art Museum, and the LDX Contemporary Art Center, provide exciting exhibits.

“There has been huge progress compared to fi fteen years ago when the Yuanmingyuan artists’ lifestyle was considered unacceptable to most ordinary people,” said art critic Li Xianting. “Nowadays, we have so many artist villages and artistic districts blossoming across the country, the artists are living and working as part of local neighborhoods.”

Li himself has been highly acclaimed as the “Godfather of Chinese contemporary art” for his tremendous contributions to its development over the past twenty years. He is also an eyewitness of the development of all art districts across the country.

In 2000, Li moved to Songzhuang, a town in Tongzhou District in east Beijing, where artists had settled in twos and threes since they were scattered from the Yuanmingyuan Artist Village. In addition to Songzhuang, several other art colonies in other parts of Beijing, such as 798 Factory, Feijiacun and Caochangdi, have become magnets for new artists, art collectors and tourists.

Nowadays, Songzhuang is widely referred to as “the biggest artistic district in China”, with more than 2,000 artists at work in their studios. Instead of battling with local police and government officials, Songzhuang artists now enjoy artistic freedom, Li said.

Yi Ling, a famous artist who once lived in the Yuanmingyuan artist village, has deep impressions of changing attitudes toward art colonies. He’s been named “head of the art villagers” for his enthusiasm in helping other artists to settle there.

“Fifteen years ago, artists in the Yuanmingyuan artist village drew attention from the police because of the artists’ uninhibited lifestyle,” he said. Even a small party with a few artists could trigger a full alert by the local police. A policeman on duty during the art festival’s opening ceremony said that nowadays, “We won’t interfere with the artists enjoying themselves. “We are here to protect the visitors in case of danger.”

Many artists are chasing their dreams of creative expression in China’s art zones. Many have given up their “iron rice bowl,” a term that refers to an occupation with guaranteed job security, steady income and benefits, once the dream of almost all Chinese people.

The Songzhuang festival coincides with a number of dates important to the Chinese art world and the country itself, as the major Sotheby’s auction showcasing Chinese contemporary art (which we have previously discussed) will take place on October 6, and the Chinese national holiday (and 60th anniversary of the founding of the PRC) will take place on October 1.

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