Exploring the Modern Art Scene in Beijing

by KNYCX Journeying
December 9, 2021 | 5 min read

Exploring the Modern Art Scene in Beijing

That might sound odd but Beijing is not one of my favorite cities.

Beijing Art Museum - 3

I have been to Beijing a couple of times and now we are in a love/hate relationship. Firstly, the notorious air pollution that basically covers the city with smog the majority of the year. Secondly, it’s just so, so highly-populated and so, so huge that makes getting around (at times) extremely frustrating. If you are going out on a Friday afternoon, you might end up stuck in an agonizing traffic jam that you have no choice but to return to the where you started mid-way. Subway could be overloaded, cabs could be impossible to hail, and cycling could be difficult. Lastly, the attractions are usually immensely crowded (a.k.a. People Mountain People Sea) that could be difficult for one to quietly enjoy the beautiful sights.

Beijing 798 - 5

Yet, the ancient Capital of China is filled with magnificent monuments and historical sites: the Forbidden City, Temple of Heaven, the Great Wall, the Summer Palace (Yiheyuan), 13 Ming Tombs, and more… that I believe worth the pain of getting trapped in the crowd and witnessing the fascinating Chinese art and culture before communism.

Beijing Architecture - Beijing National Stadium (Bird Nest) Herzog & de Meuron

There was a day that I was in town and the sky was blue; instead of visiting the heritage sites I spent the day getting myself soaked in modern art and architecture. Since the Beijing Olympics in 2008, the capital city was under rapid development. Cutting-edge infrastructure sprung up everywhere in the city, it has become an arena of world-class architecture firms. Art galleries and art district are growing and blooming that makes the culture hub of the country intriguing for art-lovers. I named Asia’s modern art scene an “Instagram” series because I found these contemporary art pieces always creates interesting and unique Instagram-able moments.

Beijing’s Modern Architecture

Check out these modern city developments. It was marvelous to see these buildings’ peculiar shapes, sharp lines, and a formidable scale.

  • Beijing National Stadium (Bird Nest): Herzog & de Meuron
  • The National Aquatics Center, Beijing (Watercube): PTW Architects
  • National Centre for the Performing Arts (NCPA) (National Grand Theater): Paul Andreu
  • Beijing Capital International Airport: Foster + Partners
  • Central China Television (CCTV) Headquarter building: Office for Metropolitan Architecture (OMA)
  • National Library of China (North Extension): KSP Jürgen Engel Architekten
  • National Museum of China: Gerkan, Marg, and Partners
  • Digital Beijing Building: Studio Pei-Zhu, Urbanus Architecture & Design
  • LeSports Center (originally Beijing Wukesong Culture & Sports Center): Gu Yonghui
  • Linked Hybrid: Steven Holl
  • Olympic Green Tennis Centre: BVN Architecture
National Centre for the Performing Arts (NCPA) (National Grand Theater) Paul Andreu
National Centre for the Performing Arts (NCPA) (National Grand Theater): Paul Andreu

Red Brick Art Museum

One might be surprised that there are actually quite a few contemporary art space in Beijing that showcase artwork created by local artists. While the themes and topics may not have a wide and free diversity like any other art gallery is other places it the world. The museum itself has a certain unqieu aesthetics that worth appreciation.

Red Brick Art Museum 1

Red Brick Art Museum is located in the outskirts of Beijing city yet it gained fame and popularity with its unique architecture and garden. Not to mention it is very Instagram friendly ?

Red Brick Art Museum 10

Beautifully sculptured Chinese garden, the juxtaposition of concrete, brick and trees frame a good picture, and it’s a good test to your photo-taking skills. Explore different angles, play with colors, and work with the environment to see how they best compliment your outfit and pose. The museum features two sprawling exhibition halls and numerous smaller spaces; apart from a few impressive permanent artpieces supported by up-and-coming Chinese and international contemporary artist, they host temporary themed art exhibitions in various forms and formats from paintings, photography, installation art, film screenings, to regular live performances.

Red Brick Art Museum 9

The museum has a cafe and a restaurant in the garden that makes it possible for visitors to chill out and unwind for a day.

Today Art Museum

While the National Art Museum of China (NAMOC) is now under renovation and will come back 7 times larger than the original. Today Art Museum is a private, non-profit art museum supported the development of Chinese contemporary art since 2002. The museum hosted numerous temporary art exhibitions and it has been the place for new artists to express and present their work before they moved onto the world’s stage. Yue Minjun’s self-portraits are part of the museum’s permanent collection and are displayed right at the entrance!

Beijing Art Museum - 1

Beijing Art Museum - 4

798 Art Zone

Beijing 798 - 1

798 Art Zone is the district a little bit away from the hustle-&-bustle that I could easily spend a day or two in Beijing. The district is a 30-minute walk away from Wangjing South station and the district is a cluster of art galleries, high art boutique stores, cafes, and art museums. The district was established by a small group of artists in the late 1990s, who were all looking for new working space to set up their art businesses. The area’s quality of artwork eventually gained international media attention in the early 2000s and the government declared 798 a protected art district. Apart from the Ullens Center for Contemporary Art (UCCA), another highly recommended contemporary exhibition site in Beijing, sites like Beijing Commune, Iberia Center for Contemporary Art, Mountain Art Beijing & Frank Lin Art Center, Asia Art Center (Beijing), Linda Gallery, PIFO New Art Gallery, PACE Beijing, Loft 3 Gallery, Enjoy Museum of Art, Whitebox… host temporary themed exhibition through the year and most of them excitingly – free! I had a great day wandering in the district (as most of the area are pedestrianized), sipping coffee and doing some shopping – I did buy a bunch of magnets of contemporary artworks by famous Chinese artists for my friends!

Beijing 798 - Ullens
Ullens Center for Contemporary Art (UCCA)

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Any thoughts, tips or questions?

Hey! I am Kenny. Since I was a kid, I was bitten by a travel bug quite seriously that I would choose a globe and atlas book for Christmas over video games. Now, the Knycx Journeying website was launched as a platform to share my passion - covering anything that interests me from history, culture, humanity, architecture, art, food, music to outdoor adventure.

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