The Lives of Artists in Songzhuang
    2013-03-13 15:53:50      Web Editor: Duan
Songzhuang has clearly transformed into something new, but whether or not its aspirations are being reached is a contentious debate.

Artist Yu Fu describes his art in his Songzhuang studio/home. [Photo: Wang]

By William Wang

Art hype in China is sharply focused on Beijing's 798 Art District, though a growing number of artists and visitors are disappointed in how the area has become commercialized. Up-and-coming artists were once drawn to 798 because its disused factory spaces were easily converted to artist studios, and the rents were dirt cheap. As rents in 798 shot up, many artists turned to the growing southeastern Beijing suburb of Songzhuang.

Songzhuang gained some notoriety early in the '90s when artist celebrities Fang Lijun and Yue Minjun set up shop there. Around that time, developers and even the central government realized the profits Chinese avant-garde art could generate, thus injecting millions of yuan into developing this farmer's village. Songzhuang has clearly transformed into something new, but whether or not its aspirations are being reached is a contentious debate.

Today, the number of artists working or living in Songzhuang is reportedly 6,000. The main avenues are lined with curvaceous and angled modern and minimalist architecture: galleries and studio spaces. It is an artistic environment that lacks one thing: people.

The streets and galleries appear deserted. Six thousand artists there may be, but apparently they choose to close themselves up in their studios. That is, of course, the reason they came here.

Gulistan is a painter who teaches art at Capital Normal University. Her Songzhuang studio is a tall, white space with multiple level lofts, a slick condo which she designed herself. Paintings hanging throughout provide a timeline to her career, from her studies of Rembrandt to her recently completed series which all somehow look uncompleted.

"I'm not so very social," she said coyly, before adding, "I don't like to come to Songzhuang because there are too many artists."

By Beijing standards, the 70,000 yuan annual rent for such a space is completely reasonable, though it's clear that many Songzhuang artists don't dare dream of having such a studio of their own.

Thousands of others reside in traditional single story homes, where the chill sneaks in through the windows and doors.

Yu Fu is a 50-year-old painter who has been living in one of these Songzhuang homes for longer than most. "I've been in Songzhuang for six years so I'm an old hand around here!" he smiled. His bedraggled beard and mop of hair place him somewhere between artsy and low income.

His abstract paintings reference Chinese calligraphy and the sandstorms of Ningxia, where he grew up. His unique mix of paint and inks results in some impressively delicate and organic textures expressed upon bold forms over boldly blank backdrops. He looks like he could be one of Songzhuang's talented starving artists.

"He's not outgoing so he can't make himself known to the public," commented his daughter, Wang Ge, who often speaks on his behalf. She believes that because her father is hard of hearing it's even more difficult for him to sell himself; it's true that people sometimes have trouble deciphering his meaning.
To make matters worse, Yu Fu's past manager appeared to be completely inadequate at promoting his work. "That manager didn't support this kind of art so much," complained Wang. "The manager wanted to deal with big markets and because there's not a lot of art in this style, he didn't want to support him."

Yu knows his work isn't mainstream, describing it as "not elegant" or even "crude." He may be victim of an inattentive market, but it doesn't seem to weigh on him. Remarkably, he claims to have no idea how much his paintings are worth. "Someone else can sell the work. I don't do that. I never think about the price. I just paint. Nothing else."

And Songzhuang at least is a place for people to paint. Luo Minli has been painting in Songzhuang for four years, interpreting "mystery in the east" via western expressionism. "It's so troublesome living in the city," he began. "City life pulls us away from art. This place is quieter so we can focus on our work. If I lived in the city, I'd be troubled by things which aren't related to art."

Luo's sentiments are echoed by multitudes of residents who have little interest in Songzhuang except as a place to create. As a place to sell, however, it's far from ideal. Chinese collectors visit more than international ones, but this crowd of China's newly wealthy is usually focused on traditional Chinese art. Attention from the west remains more progressive but the attention has declined over the last two years. Some people believe that the economic crisis has cut interest in Songzhuang, but others believe the main reason is less obvious.

Wu Jingbo runs a small gallery called Jin Mu Shui Huo Tu. According to him, the development of Songzhuang has resulted in less freedom of expression. In turn, "western art organizations have become less and less interested in Songzhuang."

Wu glanced out at the windstorm blasting at the gallery windows, the sky, hazy with sand. "The situation for the frontline of Chinese modern art," he opined, "is like the weather today."

Getting there: From Tongzhou Beiyuan subway station (Batong Line), take a 20 minute taxi ride east to Songzhuang.

1  2  3  4  

         claims the copyright of all material and information produced originally by our staff. No person, organization and/or company shall reproduce, disseminate or broadcast the content in any manner whatsoever without the express written permission of holds neither liability nor responsibility for materials attributed to any other source. Such information is provided as reportage and dissemination of information but does not necessarily reflect the opinion of or endorsement by CRI.

• Mount Emei Celebrates Lantern Festival
At the night of February 10th, the night before the Lantern Festival, Mount Emei holds its annual lighting ceremony at the Dafo Temple. The ceremony attracts many people, who express expectation on well-being.
• Spring Snow at Mount Emei
Mount Emei has its first snowfall after the Start of Spring on the lunar calendar.
• More than 200,000 Tourists Visit Mount Emei During Spring Festival
More than 200,000 tourists visit Mount Emei during the Spring festival this year. The accurate number of tourists is 214,389, marking an increase of 12 percent compared with that of last year. The ticket revenue is 26 million yuan, increasing by 9.8 percent on a year basis.
• 2th International Micro-film of China National Film Festival Held in Xi'an
The second international microfilm ceremony of the China Golden Rooster and Hundred Flowers Film Festival was held in Xi'an, the capital of northwest China's Shaanxi Province, on January 19, 2017. More than 500 cineastes from around the world attended the ceremony.
• China¡¯s 1st Large-Scale Snow Field Pets Festival Xiling Snow Mountain Pets Festival
On January 10, the 17th Southern China Snow and Ice Festival kicks off in Xiling Snow Mountain of Chengdu, Sichuan.
• Xiling Snow Mountain Launches Campaign of 'Love for Stray Dogs'
On January 10, the 1st Xiling Snow Mountain Pets Festival kicks off. A campaign called 'Love for Stray Dogs' is launched.

Travel Videos
• Leshan Releases Tourism Promotion Video

Leshan city in southwest China's Sichuan province releases a tourism promotion video to attract global tourists.

• Time Out Beijing Food Awards 2014: Leaning Towards Luxury
Beijingers take their food seriously, but on April 29th at the Time Out Beijing Food Awards...
• Chopsticks & Beyond, Back at the Farm
Chopsticks & Beyond takes a trip to Tootoo Organic Farm.
• Chopsticks & Beyond Mixed with Chinese and Italian
C&B invited Italian chef Mattia Salussoglia  and local chef Wei Han to teach each other how to cook a dish from their home country.

Editor's Pick
• Special Event Offers Culinary Surprises and More
Beijing's high end food scene is hardly a well-kept secret. Unless, that is, you're talking about Time Out Beijing's Kitchen X event, which was held this past Saturday evening. The event was bravely billed as ¡°the ultimate dining experience.¡± While that may be debatable, the event was definitely unique one. Diners signed up for the 888 rmb dinners, not knowing where they would go, what they would eat, or who they would eat with.
• 15 Artworks Stolen from Chinese Museum in France
15 pieces of art have been stolen from a Chinese museum south of Paris, including a cloisonn¨¦ vase from Emperor Qianlong's reign during China's Qing Dynasty. There was also a replica crown of the King of Siam given to France's emperor in the mid-19th century.
• Former TV Anchor on Crusade against Pollution
A former celebrity TV presenter has released a self-funded documentary about smog, inspired by her sick daughter.
• Chopsticks & Beyond: On Track in Tianjin
Chopsticks & Beyond took to Tianjin last Friday, where the cooking show invited a number of food industry professionals to take part in the Tianjin Snack Attack contest.
• Hilton Beijing "Fly Me to Hawaii" Food Festival Launch Party
Hilton Beijing and the Hilton Worldwide portfolio of hotels & resorts in Hawaii, together with Hawaiian Airlines have unveiled plans for a "Fly Me To Hawaii".

The Sound Stage
China Revealed
My Chinese Life
Photo Gallery
Learn Chinese
"In" Chinese
Chatting in Chinese
Pop Culture
Traditional Culture
Living Chinese
Chinese Studio
Chinese Class
Learn English
Special English
Pop Chart
Everyday English
Fabulous Snaps
CRI News  | Xinhua  | People's Daily Online   |  | China Daily  |  Global Times  | China Job  |  China Tibet Online  |  | eBeijing  | Beijing Today  | China-Eurasia Expo  | APEC Yiwu Conference  | Chinese Embassy in S.Africa  | Chinese Embassy in Australia  | Chinese Embassy in NZ