Today I ventured out to 798, Beijing’s home to contemporary art. The site of the art world here in Beijing is itself worth the hike. The galleries have taken up residence in a disused electronics factory that was apparently built by the East Germans, by the look of things, in the 1950s. As I was guided around the space by one of my fellow ArtSlant contributors, I was amazed at the buildings, much more than I was by the art: the original Bauhaus style with Communist slogans still sprawled across the walls made the buildings sights to behold.
I was struck by the immensity of the spaces as well as the design – dwarfing Chelsea’s biggest spaces, and making art gallery hopping in Paris appear as precious as a tea party.
That said, I didn’t think that the galleries always used their spaces to their advantage. Pace Beijing for example, had both an extraordinary building and an exhibition of work by the hottest name on the US art scene, Sterling Ruby. The Pace gallery occupies a former arms factory, a building made prominent by a sawtooth profile roof with repeating clerestories.
Despite the height of the ceilings, the clerestories ensure they come so low that the space becomes effectively horizontal. Nevertheless, some of the Ruby sculptures were extreme in their verticality and thus had to be hidden behind supporting concrete pilons. And the result was a closing down of the building on the art work, completely distracting from the reason we are presumably enticed inside. I was so much more intrigued by the building than Ruby’s sculptures, and yet, in another space, the reverse may have been true.
A highlight of the day was the non-profit art center, Ullens Centre for Contemporary Art. But again, it wasn’t so much the art that appealed to me, rather, the whole experience of visiting the space is what I will take home with me.
As a part of their “service,” I was greeted by a young man who showed me around an exhibition by Los Angelean Walead Beshty. The man went to great pains to explain the art to me — all about transition and transportation of art to the museum; it was okay, but nothing earth-shattering.
And as he meticulously pronounced certain words, slowly and carefully to ensure comprehensibility, it was all I could do to stop myself telling him that he was far more interesting to me than the art. Though the art wasn’t as chintzy as some of the work I had seen during the day, the young man fascinated me because he had clearly read the script and was regurgitating it with great competence. I wanted to know what was not in the script.
(Images: Pace Beijing; Party Members in 798; Tatsuo Miyajima, Ashes to Ashes, Dust to Dust Also on exhibition at UCCA; Walead Beshty; Courtesy Frances Guerin)