Heading back to Mongolia, I had a one day layover in Beijing and re-visited the 798 Gallery district.  I had been there three years earlier, but since then, there have been many articles in the US on contemporary Chinese artists and I had recently seen an exhibit of contemporary Chinese art at the Chicago Cultural Center.  Since I last visited, things seemed to have expanded and many spaces were closed.  I don’t think they have been hit by the economic crisis as American artists and galleries have been, perhaps they were all gearing up for the first Beijing Art Biennale, August 15-September 12.

 The 798 District is interesting in itself.  Lots of old brick buildings and structures from a former industrial area, including a restored steam engine.  The temps were in the upper 90’s that day with about 90% humidity, so I took it slow, stopping often at one of the many cafés for a cold drink.  A new drink I discovered – iced coffee with green tea – interesting.  There were a lot of larger than life sculptures, many seemingly not very Chinese.  And apparently more foreigners are now entering the scene.  (Perhaps I’d have more luck in Beijing?)  A very peculiar installation by a couple of young Austrian guys who recently ventured into Afghanistan.  They filled a couple of rooms with videos, diagrams, photos, artifacts, etc. from their travels.  It was a bit overwhelming.

 The area is also becoming quite commercial and there were a couple of souvenir type shops where you could buy t-shirts, books, buttons, bags, etc. with some of the more popular art images and logos.  Wouldn’t it be interesting if Chicago’s Ravenswood Artwalk developed into a more permanent art district like 798 with galleries and businesses that actually supported and sold local art work?  Hmm…  Anyway, there is a lot to see at 798 and one could easily spend an entire day there.  I did come across a shop that sold only ceramics, mostly pottery.  But the young people working in the shop didn’t seem to know much about who and where the pieces were made.  My only wish is that there were more artists around and available to have an exchange with.