On Saturday, we had the whole morning and decided to explore 798 in Dashanzi. This area of former factories and dilapidated warehouses, including the main Factory 798 which produced electronics, has been transformed into Beijing's trendy art district over the years. Most of the buildings and warehouses in Dashanzi were designed by the East Germans in the 50's Bauhaus style and Located in the northeast part of the city, towards the international airport, the area has many art galleries and studios, cafes, restaurants, design boutiques, bookstores including a bar situated in the old 798 factory aptly called the Old Factory Bar and anchored by the impressive collection at the UCCA (Uhlens Center for Contemporary Art).
The UCCA was created by Belgian couple, Guy and Myriam Ullens, in November 2007 and is housed in an original 1950's Bauhaus-style brick factory. Aside from their extensive collection of Chinese contemporary art that the Ullens' own, the UCCA holds exhibitions of other contemporary artists. On our visit last month, the main hall had a large light structure by Tatsuo Miyajima (until October 8) and a larger art installation by Song Dong (which ended on Sept. 8) reflecting the life in Beijing's traditional Hutongs (courtyard-based residences found in narrow streets and alleys of Beijing), many of which have now been razed to make way for larger, newer developments.
We spent some time at the museum walking through the exhibits then finished our visit with a long look through the stylish UCCA museum store. There were lots of fun things to be had and we especially liked Sui Janguo's Made in China colorful dinosaur resin scultpures. In the end, we settled for a poster of Yue Minjun's Great Criticism series to add to our kitchen wall collection.
We walked around 798 and saw the cafes and restaurants start to fill up for lunch with a mix of trendy locals, expat residents and tourists. On the main square was a large Botero-like sculpture and everywhere else were whimsical street art installations fronting galleries. For local flavor, there were also several bike-mounted food carts on or around the main square. We spotted coal roasted sweet potatoes, candied fruit on a stick, assorted fried pastries and a delicious-smelling extra-thin pancake spread with a black sesame paste, sprinkled with herbs and filled with a crunchy cracker which was then folded up into a rectangle piece - a Chinese version of the French crepes. It was past noon and the day was humid so we wandered around for a bit more before we hopped in a cab to head back to our hotel in the Financial District and spent the rest of the afternoon getting ready for the big museum event that evening.
Most galleries are closed on Monday
Free admission on Thursdays