In the space of just a few years, special designated areas housing artists’ workshops, galleries and art related organisations have mushroomed all around China. In the mid-2000’s, Chinese contemporary art reached new heights, with Liu Xiaodong becoming China’s first artist to sell an artwork for over two million USD, thus becoming one of only a handful of living artists to accomplish such a feat. This accomplishment also became a clear signifier of China’s rising status and popularity in the international art world. This boom, coupled with a more friendly social and political climate for artists lead to another great boom – namely the creation of art districts.
Since 2008, Chengdu has also joined the ranks of major art districts in China, alongside 798 in Beijing and Moganshan Lu in Shanghai. Echoing the facades of 798, Chengdu’s “North Village Art District” (北村艺术区) looks like a former factory compound from the outside. It’s only upon entering that the true function of this area becomes apparent. Standing back to back with the new campus of Sichuan Conservatory of Music and Chengdu Fine Arts College, over 40 students and artists have set up camp in the district, transforming the industrial buildings into bustling art studios and workshops. At present, six large scale factory buildings and 38 single story houses have been converted into art related buildings, with more projects for expansion on the horizon.
Founded by a group of famous Chinese contemporary artists, including President of Chengdu Fine Arts College Ma Yiping and realist painter He Duoling, the district occupies an area of 8000 square metres and despite its relatively short presence in the city, currently enjoys increasing levels of fame and recognition. Some of the works that have already sold here range in price from a couple of thousand to a few hundred thousand yuan. The artists in North Village art district generally advocate three ideals: freedom, independence and the avant-garde, ideals that are reflected in the artists’ approach towards their art.
Chengdu is renowned in China as one of the most forward looking art centres in the country. Therefore, North Village art district is not only a place where cutting edge art is produced, but literally a community where artists get together and explore the next phase of Chinese art and debate the country’s changing realities. He Duoling, the main founder of the community and widely regarded as China’s most famous realist painter was particularly active in the 80’s in 90’s in educating painters in the Chengdu region. Among them was one of China’s biggest painters today, Zhang Xiaogang. The ground-breaking works produced in Chengdu at the time quickly put the city on the international art map and the founding of this art district has shifted attention from the predictable art centres in Beijing and Shanghai to China’s west.
However, as rosey as this picture may seem, rarely do alternative ideals have a smooth and steady relationship with the state and like most other major art districts including 798, Chengdu too suffers from problems like sudden rent increases and mounting financial pressures. Despite its difficulties, Beicun Art District is a fascinating remnant of Chengdu’s ground-breaking art revolution in the 90’s lead by He Duoling. If you haven’t already explored the area then schedule a time to do so soon. With China’s unpredictable taste for destruction and construction, nothing can be taken for granted for too long, not even a place that is famous for defining cutting edge Chinese art in the 21st century.
North Village Art District (Beicun Art District) 北村艺术区
Add: Xinbeicun, Xindu District, Chengdu
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