A formidable area of disused, Mao-era factories built with East German expertise, 798 Art District, also known as Dàshānzi (大山子), is Běijīng’s main concentration of contemporary art galleries, art bookshops and cafes. The site first rose to prominence in the late 1990s, its Bauhaus-style former factory workshops ideally suited to ambitious art installations. The industrial complex celebrates its proletarian roots in the Communist heyday of the 1950s via the retouched red Maoist slogans decorating gallery walls and statues of burly, lantern-jawed workers dotting the lanes.
You could easily spend half a day wandering around the complex; look out for signboards with English-language maps to guide you around.
Galleries not to miss include the 798 Art Factory, a Bauhaus, hangar-like space with its concrete wall columns emblazoned in 1950s Maoist slogans, and industrial machinery scattered amid whichever Chinese or international art exhibition is currently in situ. The Danish-run gallery Faurschou Foundation Běijīng has exhibitions by internationally acclaimed artists, past shows featuring the likes of Lucien Freud, Ai Wei Wei, Andy Warhol and Yoko Ono. Springs Centre of the Arts also exhibits headliner artists from both China and abroad. UCCA is another big-money gallery with immense, modern exhibition halls and the attached, funky UCCA Design Store.
Other highlights include the Xin Dong Cheng Space for Contemporary Art, which showcases young, avant-garde Chinese artists in a lovely space; Zhu Bingren Art Museum features the copper and bronze sculpture of renowned Shandong artist Zhu Bingren. Also check out the Pyongyang-based Mansudae Art Studio, which exhibits the work of North Korean artists and sells DPRK collectibles. BTAP, with a focus on Japanese and North Asian artists, is another gallery worth your attention.
There are plenty of quirky, open-air sculptures scattered around the complex, like Sui Jianguo’s stack of caged dinosaurs, as well as original socialist-realist sculptures in the southwest including a headless Chairman Mao statue. The area around 798 Live House is a focal point for stencils, murals and other street art.
Towards the eastern edge of the complex near D-Park, a raised walkway running north to south offers photogenic vistas of the industrial heart of 798, a steam punk-esque landscape of chimneys, refineries, hissing pipes and rusted metal.