Art capitals

Art capitals

When faced with a clean slate, as one is at the start of a fresh year, it is time to contemplate a year of inspired living, enriched by art and travel.

Life! susses out the three hottest art capitals in Asia - Seoul, Hong Kong and Beijing - and their lively art scene to bring you three top galleries from each city that will slake an art collector's thirst for collecting, satisfy an art lover's curiosity for home-grown art and offer travellers a taste of culture in these cities.

A version of this article first appeared in the November, December and January issues of The Life, the digital magazine from The Straits Times. To view more galleries and pictures, download the issues at for free.

Beijing: Surging demand for art

The boom in China's contemporary art scene shows no signs of slowing down. Since the 1990s, art galleries and art fairs have sprung up in cosmopolitan Chinese cities such as Beijing and Shanghai, buoyed by the rise of moneyed art collectors.

The recent rash of private art museums in China, which often showcase contemporary art, has further cemented the country's reputation as a key player in the art world. At the heart of much of this buzz is the country's capital, Beijing.

Seminal moments in contemporary Chinese art history have, for one, unfolded in the city. An example is the 1989 China Avant-Garde exhibition at the National Art Museum of China in Beijing.

The artist-driven show at the country's premier arts venue featured more than 100 artists from across China and 300 provocative works ranging from performance and installation art to political pop and experimental ink paintings.

The city is also home to the nation's top fine arts academy, The Central Academy of Fine Arts, and the birthplace of key art spaces such as the 798 Art Zone, an enclave of galleries and artist studios.

The art district rose to prominence in the early 2000s as important artists and galleries occupied buildings in the abandoned factory complex on the eastern fringe of the city.

In recent years, some high-profile galleries have also set up shop in the nearby Caochangdi Village, where they occupy elegant grey brick buildings that stand out from the more rustic environs.

The following three galleries are among the top home-grown arts spaces at the forefront of China's contemporary art scene.

Three Shadows +3 Gallery

This two-year-old gallery, dedicated to photography by home-grown Chinese artists, shows how far the photography art scene in China has come.

It is an offshoot of the not-for-profit Three Shadows Photography Art Centre.

Dedicated exclusively to photography and video art from China, the centre was founded by prominent Chinese photographer Rongrong and his Japanese wife, Inri, in 2007 to raise awareness and recognition of the art form in China.

Rongrong, 46, says in Mandarin: "Contemporary Chinese art started gaining popularity around 2005, both here and overseas. But photography was given the cold shoulder in China. Many here still had the perception that photography is a low-level skill and not a form of fine art."

Eager to change things, he opened the 4,600 sq m art centre, designed by artist and friend Ai Weiwei, to house exhibition halls, a library, a cafe-cumbookstore and a darkroom.

The centre holds photography exhibitions, talks and workshops for the public.

Since then, growing interest in photography, as well as the rise of emerging artists working in the medium, has made it feasible for the centre to start an independent platform to promote the works of promising artists commercially.

The gallery's roster includes prominent film-maker and artist Zhao Liang, photographer Zhang Kechun and upcoming artist Ren Hang.

Where: 155A Caochangdi, Chaoyang District; tel: +86-10-6431-9063

Open: 10am to 6pm (Tuesday to Sunday), closed on Mondays

Long March Space

Founded in 2002 by curator Lu Jie, the gallery is an offshoot of his Long March Project, one he conceived in the late 1990s as a curatorial studies student at London's Goldsmiths College.

The project takes off from the Long March, a historic trek made by the Chinese Communist army in 1934, from south-eastern to north- western China, and which marked the rise of the Chinese leader Mao Zedong as the unrivalled Communist Party leader.

Mr Lu uses the march both as a metaphor and narrative framework to connect contemporary art practice with social development and change.

More than 250 artists, scholars and curators from China and abroad have been involved in the project through periodic performances, exhibitions and discussions held at points along the 10,000km route.

Of the many artists he met through the project, Mr Lu was keen to continue working with some of them in a sustained manner.

This eventually led to the formation of a permanent gallery in Beijing's 798 Art Zone. Well-known artists Zhan Wang and Yang Shaobin are among those affiliated with the project and represented by the gallery.

While not all artists shown by the gallery have links to the iconic project, they all share a singular trait - they are often seeking new ways of making art, never content to rest in their comfort zone.

The artists' restless pursuit is mirrored by the gallery in its push to advance discourse on contemporary art through thought-provoking exhibitions.

Gallery director Theresa Liang, 33, says: "China has more than what it takes to sustain an art market locally and if we want to drive art forward, such discussions are crucial."

Where: 4 Jiuxianqiao Road, 798 Art Zone, Chaoyang District; tel: 86-10-5978-9768

Open: 11am to 7pm (Tuesday to Sunday), closed on Monday

Hadrien de Montferrand Gallery

Opened by a Frenchman in 2009, this eponymous gallery stands out for its focus on contemporary works of art on paper.

Mr de Montferrand was previously a marketing manager for French auction house Artcurial and a development manager at the Ullens Centre for Contemporary Art in Beijing.

He chose to spotlight original paper-based works, even though the modern and contemporary art scene has been dominated by mediums such as oil on canvas and installations, because he believes paper works have been overlooked for their artistic rigour and relative affordability. His decision has proven to be savvy.

The gallery's 2012 exhibition History In The Making, which featured rarely seen preparatory drawings from the 1950s to 1980s for historic paintings in the collection of Chinese museums, drew 12,000 visitors and was a sold-out show. Its success spawned a sequel exhibition last year.

Gallery director Marie Terrieux, 34, says the gallery's focus on works ranging from charcoal and ink to gouache and watercolour on paper has also allowed it to surprise art lovers and collectors with "another face" of well-known pioneer contemporary Chinese artists.

"It may not be the paintings or sculptures they are known for, but works on paper are an important part of any artist's output," she says.

The gallery shows works by artists such as Chinese contemporary art pioneer Huang Rui and rising stars such Liu Bolin and Sun Xun.

Where: 4 Jiuxianqiao Road, 798 Art Zone, Chaoyang District; tel: 86-139-1165-1353

Open: 11am to 6pm (Monday to Saturday), by appointment on Sundays

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