798, Beijing: Axis of Art
As the world considered the future of artistic freedom in China with excitement and uneasiness, I visited the Chinese capital city last week. To placate the gods of tourism and professional obligation, I wound my way through the Forbidden City and tracked down the Cocoa Ballet storefront in the Houhai district (where the decor combined Callebaut marketing posters and the PRC flag, though the cheery assistant told me that the ballet chocolatiers also use Valrhona couverture). But I'd like to spend most of my energy here celebrating the ongoing conversation between artists and audiences from all over the world in Beijing's 798 district. A collection of galleries, boutiques, and pedestrian walkways and tunnels, 798 is a kissing cousin of Soho in New York--it's a former industrial zone (the Bauhaus factories were built by the East Germans) that was originally embraced by struggling artists whose own successes raised the rents and transformed the place into playground for yuppies and bourgpats. I received a farcically stereotypical response to my curious entree into the exhibit of North Korean paintings ("No photos!" a disembodied voice shouted from behind a curtain, "No photos! Shut down! Shut down!"), but I spent two days in the neighborhood largely in awe of the overlapping exhibitions from local, Vietnamese, Cuban, Russian, and American artists. In my own expression of artistic freedom, I have posted the rest of the photos on Facebook.