More than 5,000 artists live in the biggest art community in Beijing, Songzhuang Artist Village. This famous community of artists is situated in the eastern suburbs of Beijing. Art galleries and exhibitions will be a feast for your eyes, and there is the open air art market where you might have some interesting findings.
A community created in the 1980s in northeast Beijing on the grounds of the Old Summer Palace in order to escape the monetary "rat-race" of artistry, Songzhuang Artist Village migrated and eventually settled in a village outside of central Beijing.
Although Songzhuang was originally home to only avant-garde artists, through its migration it expanded and is now home to artists of all mediums from photographers to sculptors to painters and beyond.
It has built international fame for Chinese contemporary art. Most of the residents are painters, sculptors, calligraphers and photographers of varying styles, ranging from avant-garde to academic.
The first inauguration of Songzhuang Art Festival in 2005 was a success, gathering both domestic and international praise and speculation. Subsequent years’ festivals are held annually and have strengthened the already famous reputation of Songzhuang as being a unique phenomenon of artists and art lovers at home and abroad.
The first annual Songzhuang Art Festival was held in October of 2005 with over 600 works of art displayed on the main road. Subsequently, the East District Artistic Centre and Songzhuang Art Museum were constructed and have both been utilized during the annual Songzhuang Art Festival.
By 2009, 2,000 pieces of art creations of over 1,000 Chinese and international artists were on exhibition at the festival. The ninth annual Songzhuang Culture and Art Festival kicked off on September 26, 2015 and lasted for 13 days.
The best time to visit the Songzhuang Artist Village is in late summer or early fall when the annual Songzhuang Art Festival is held. This event is two weeks long and usually takes place in September and October.
During the remainder of the year, it is difficult to know when galleries will be open or an exhibition is taking place. Therefore, it is best to take a local with you to translate and navigate the area.
A visit to Songzhuang is convenient from Beijing, less than one hour ride by car. You may either take a taxi or bus No. 938 from Guo Mao station directly to Songzhuang or, after taking a metro to Beijing Station, you may take bus No. 938 to Songzhuang.
Once in the village of Songzhuang, you should expect a peaceful atmosphere. A popular gallery with tourists is the Songzhuang Art Gallery. Just down the street from the gallery, you will find the Roundabout Muslim Tea House as well a few local restaurants such as Shanxi Pasta Home Cooking and Jinxiangyuan Noodle.
It is important for you to be wary when purchasing artwork. Many galleries and art dealers will sell imitations of famous Songzhuang artwork. This is another reason to travel to Songzhuang with a local who you trust.
One thing for visitors to keep in mind before a trip to Songzhuang is the relaxed environment that is upheld in the area. Artists and dealers alike are happy to play cards and have a chat and cup of tea with you. It is a slow paced community where enjoying life is valued.
Take a walk down the streets, see what galleries might be open and maybe get a peek at an artist creating a new piece or speak to a dealer about what to expect from the Songzhuang Artist Village in the coming years. Take in all of what modern Chinese art has to give and see a unique niche in China's culture.