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More than 5,000 artists live in Songzhuang Artists’ Village, the biggest art community in Beijing. This famous community of artists is situated in the city’s eastern suburbs.
Art galleries and exhibitions will be a feast for your eyes, and there is an open air art market there, where you might find some interesting things.
Songzhuang Artists’ Village was originally 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. It moved on and eventually settled in a village outside central Beijing.
Although Songzhuang was originally home to only avant-garde painting artists, it expanded on moving and is now home to artists of all persuasions and media, from painters to photographers to sculptors and beyond.
It has become famous internationally for Chinese contemporary art. Most residents are painters, sculptors, calligraphers and photographers of varying styles, ranging from avant-garde to academic.
The inaugural Songzhuang Art Festival in 2005 was a success, earning both domestic and international praise. Subsequent festivals have been held annually and have strengthened the already strong reputation of Songzhuang as bringing together a unique blend of artists and art lovers from home and abroad.
The first Songzhuang Art Festival was held in October 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 these have both been used during the annual festival.
By 2009, 2,000 works of art from over 1,000 Chinese and international artists were on exhibit at the festival. The ninth Songzhuang Culture and Art Festival kicked off in September, 2015 and lasted 13 days.
The best time to visit the Songzhuang Artists’ Village is in late summer or early fall during the annual Songzhuang Art Festival. The event is two weeks long and usually takes place in September and October.
During the rest of the year, it is difficult to predict when galleries will be open or exhibitions will be taking place. Therefore, it is best to take a local with you to translate and help navigate the area.
It’s easy to reach Songzhuang from Beijing, less than an hour’s ride by car. You may either take a taxi, bus No. 938 from Guo Mao station directly to Songzhuang or, after taking a metro to Beijing Station, bus No. 938 to Songzhuang.
Once in the village of Songzhuang, you can expect a peaceful atmosphere. The Songzhuang Art Gallery is popular with tourists. 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 Noodles.
It is important for you to be circumspect when purchasing artwork. Many galleries and dealers sell imitations of famous Songzhuang artwork. This is another reason to travel to Songzhuang with a local whom you trust.
One thing for visitors to bear in mind before a trip to Songzhuang is the relaxed environment in the area. Artists and dealers alike would be happy to play cards or chat and have a cup of tea with you. It is a slow-paced community, where high value is place on enjoying life.
Take a walk down the streets, see what galleries might be open and maybe steal a peek of an artist creating a new piece, or speak to a dealer about what to expect from Songzhuang in the years to come. Embrace all that modern Chinese art has to give and glimpse a unique niche in China's culture.