Kate Woods in China: Wedding Fever in the Art Zone


On a sunny day the cameras come out in Beijing’s main art district. However, facing the camera it’s likely you’ll see a fashion shoot or a highly groomed bridal entourage.

The 798 Art District is incredible, an art Disneyland. I’ve visited four times now and each stay I get lost in the maze of galleries, shops and cafes. The art zone was established around 2000 in a collection of 1950s electronic factories designed by East German architects. The industrial aesthetic and high stud, of many of the galleries, is part of the appeal and the spaces lend themselves to correspondingly mammoth scale artwork.

So far spaces I have been impressed by include Ullens Centre for Contemporary Art, Pace Beijing, Galleria Continua and Iberia. It’s blocks of sifting through different exhibitions - a wild mix of the good and bad, contemporary and traditional. Whether galleries are dealer, public or artist-run is not always clear but, like a Biennale, part of the fun is sorting through the various work on display knowing that, at some point soon, you are going to view a gem.

In the streets, dotted with ubiquitous over-scaled public sculpture, are crowds of tourists. In the weekend many tour groups favor identical shell suit gear and matching couples are to be found. My favourite couple so far were both tall, willowy and Chinese. They were dressed in flowing, white clothing (think Prince feat the Gelflings from the Dark Crystal).

Wedding photo shoots run riot, in the art-laden streets, on a baking hot day. The photographers and stylists are all young, self assured and having fun. The couples are coiffed, frilled and losing themselves in their ‘gypsy wedding’ moment. I’ve been told that in Beijing it’s popular for many couples to take their wedding photos a month or so before the ceremony itself.

I had thought this type of spectacle was particular to 798 however leaning out the window of my studio today I spotted some kind of fashion shoot, bunches of multi-coloured helium balloons and all, in the Three Shadows courtyard. That and the babies, I’ve seen lately, being driven down local roads in mini remote controlled vehicles by their parents (plastic replicas of convertibles and police jeeps) make me want to find out more about Beijing’s current pop culture.