contemporary art, photography and abstract sculpture at Factory 798
Contemporary Art, Photography and Abstract Sculpture at Factory 798

Factory 798 isn’t necessarily what you’d expect to find in a communist country. This arts district is peppered with industrial spaces turned art galleries, showcasing contemporary art, photography and abstract sculpture.

Located in the Dashanzi area, this former state-owned factory can be tough to find but, those who venture beyond central Beijing will be rewarded with trendy cafes and awesome art designed by Chinese and Taiwanese artists.

First stop was the visitor’s information center for a map and a list of the day’s lectures, dance performances and film screenings. Next, a little gallery hopping, absorbing all styles of artistic expression: everything from Japanese video installations, to experimental nude photographs, to pop-art representations of Chairman Mao.

Pop-art Representations of Chairman Mao at Factory 798
Pop-art Representations of Chairman Mao at Factory 798

Post exhibit, I popped into one of the many cafés dotting the district. I ordered a cinnamon cappuccino and a plate of pesto pasta drizzled with goat cheese. In the land of the dumpling, it felt odd to be eating this style of cuisine. This is communist China? I thought to myself while nibbling on a fork-full of green penne.

Factory 798, Located in the Dashanzi area
Visitors taking it all in at Factory 798

In a country that implemented the Cultural Revolution and once condemned artists now allows a modern art district. Though the Chinese government isn’t financially nurturing the arts, “they’re not storming buildings to burn down paintings either,” confessed a Finnish curator who worked in one of the galleries. “Today, a lot of censorship seems to originate from the artists themselves,” she continued. In order to survive, galleries will only carry art that sells. “Instead of art-for art’s sake, artists are creating works that are commercial viable.”

The result is revolution-less art; cool to look at, but ultimately, it lacks a strong social message. In the past, many Chinese creative types, journalists and web bloggers have been arrested and jailed for expressing their views.  I can see how, whether this censorship is self-imposed or not, being cautious is probably best.

For the art-lover traveling through Beijing, Factory 798 is well worth the trip. Expect cute boutiques, art installations and, at the very least if the art doesn’t move you, you’ll be guaranteed a great dish of pesto pasta.