Passion Points: Arts/Culture
The Beijing Olympics sparked a flurry of cutting-edge buildings (and helped ignite the contemporary arts scene) yet China’s ancient wonders—including the Great Wall and the humbling Forbidden City bedazzled visitors for centuries. For art and culture aficionados, this conversation between old and new makes China one of today’s most intriguing destinations.
Going with an insider—someone who speaks Chinese, knows the lay of the land and can navigate the country’s revolving door of galleries—is key. In summer ’07, art lover Deb Agrin went on a three-week trip to China—stops were made in Beijing, Yunnan Province and Shanghai. The experience was an “unparalleled immersion into Chinese culture,” she says. In Beijing, Agrin and her fellow travelers visited the Dashanzi Art District, a former factory complex-turned starving artist enclave-turned hot gallery area. Much of the works there are sanctioned by the usually anti-artist government, who shifted their official position on Dashanzi after witnessing the area’s extreme commercial value.
“The contradiction is so interesting,” says Agrin. “The works are sanctioned, yet many comment on different themes in modern China, including politics.” In Dashanzi, the group also met with an expat (in his home), who discussed the district’s shifting demographics over the years. Other Beijing stops included the Temple of Heaven and the majestic Forbidden City. Though Agrin is chiefly interested in contemporary art, the ancient buildings allowed her to see “how much present-day art and architecture reflects traditional Chinese culture.” After a brief sojourn in rural Yunnan Province, the group moved onto Shanghai, where they stopped at the Shanghai Museum (which focuses on ancient Asian Art) and the Moganshan district, Shanghai’s own version of Dashanzi. There, they had organized meetings with fashion designer Helen Lee, creator of the trendy Insh fashion brand and well-known among American teenage girls for judging an America’s Next Top Model competition, and a city architect. The latter discussed the fate of China’s hutongs, traditional residences, now being torn down for modern high-rises. For Agrin, these conversations with locals helped make the trip truly extraordinary. “Their insights gave me access to a whole side of China I never would have seen on my own,” she says.
When: Spring and fall are the best times to go, weather-wise. Summers can be brutally hot; winters bitterly cold.
Why: Both contemporary and deeply traditional, China’s art scene reflects the country at large. As Agrin puts it, “There’s this incredible duality. It’s tied to the past, yet looking to the future.”
Planning Time: You should give yourself several weeks to secure flights and hotel reservations, though we can prepare custom itineraries in a few days.
Read our Destination Report: Beijing
Read our Destination Report: Shanghai
Read Indagare Insiders on Beijing
Read more Trips of a Lifetime
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