Gallery Weekend Beijing returns as China’s first in-person contemporary art event since COVID-19

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As Gallery Weekend Beijing 2022 opened its doors to VIPs today, the issue’s theme of sharing took on several poignancies. As the first major in-person cultural event in China since the pandemic began, the more than 30 galleries and non-profit exhibitors were united in their mission to showcase the best of Chinese contemporary art on a global platform. But it’s also an opportunity to share the buzz of China’s art ecosystem with local visitors on a large scale again. This year, director Amber Wang reveals below, the institution is collaborating with nonprofit organizations for the first time and has brought together four young curators from Chinese art museums to stage their special exhibition, sharing both resources and the global platform that sparks conversations will. Although the digital is still present – Gallery Weekend Beijing has created an AR map to locate exhibitors on-site or from the comfort of their own homes, and offers the permanent online viewing room – the thrill of the physical experience is after a few Years back behind screens.

Installation view of Yang Maoyuan’s work at HdM Gallery in Beijing. Photography courtesy of the HdM gallery.

Cultured Magazine: Why does this feel like such an exciting issue for Gallery Weekend Beijing?

Amber Wang: This year marks the sixth edition of Gallery Weekend Beijing. We have grown from 18 participating galleries and institutions in 2017 to over 30 exhibitors with more than 40 exhibitions in 2022! It’s worth noting that last year’s GWBJ attracted over 199,000 physical visitors, which helped cement our platform as a major fixture on the global arts calendar.

CM: What is special about this year’s event?

RE: Under the impact of Covid-19, Gallery Weekend Beijing will be the first major physical contemporary art event in mainland China to be held this year.

Our previous postponement – from May to June – has allowed us to work more closely than ever with our exhibitors and partners, where the overarching theme of sharing at GWBJ 2022 has taken on a whole new meaning during this difficult time. In the process of active preparation we felt a great responsibility. We hope this year’s event can reflect and strengthen the city’s diverse and dynamic arts ecosystem, and bring a new level of confidence to China’s contemporary arts industry. GWBJ positions itself as a platform, not only in Beijing, but collaborates with outstanding galleries, institutions, artists and the public from different regions to bring contemporary art into the urban space and build a sustainable art ecosystem.

Installation view of “A Place for Concealment” in the Urs Meile Gallery in Beijing. Photography courtesy of Galerie Urs Meile.

CM: What are you most looking forward to in this edition?

The most exciting exhibition I’m looking forward to is our Main Sector Special Exhibition “Crosstalk”. It takes place on the first floor of the 798 Art Center, which is closely curated around the theme of sharing, which means togetherness, crossing borders and communication. We have invited four young curators from Beijing Inside-Out Art Museum and UCCA Center for Contemporary Art to curate the exhibition, which is also our first collaboration with non-profit institutions in staging a joint exhibition. The artists featured in the exhibition are at different stages in their careers and the works come from different periods of their creation, including some lesser-known creative practices. The exhibition wants to reconstruct new coordinates, explore more possibilities of the works within the framework of multiple narratives and thus inspire the public.

Our main sector’s participating institutions and galleries also present exhibitions that showcase Beijing’s unique art ecosystem and contemporary cultural landscape. We are also seeing a new energy and contextual diversity brought by the galleries from the visiting sector, which includes international galleries debuting at GWBJ. Since the beginning of the pandemic, we have seen a sharp drop in international communication and inter-regional networking has become more difficult, but we are still trying our best to connect with the global art scene. This year’s Visiting Sector features a strong lineup of seven international galleries including Pilar Corrias, Galerie Chantal Crousel, Gladstone Gallery, Balice Hertling, Kiang Malingue, Almine Rech and Timothy Taylor.

Large screen gallery installation
Installation view of “ReBirth – Encountering Nature” at the Choi Centre. Photography courtesy of the Choi Centre.

CM: How has the gallery landscape in Beijing changed since the first edition?

RE: Beijing is home to many grassroots galleries and major contemporary Chinese artists. The city has a very rich history in both ancient and contemporary art and many established collectors which have increased over the years. We wanted to fully exploit the potential of this city and bring institutions and galleries back together to strengthen our art scene. While the “Gallery Weekend” model is global, how do we translate this model to China, particularly Beijing? We’ve learned from others to gain an international perspective, but more importantly, we need to draw on our local environment and create a new approach to attract a larger audience. There is a vibrant, emerging and dynamic art landscape with immense growth opportunities.

Against the backdrop of the pandemic, the convivial and collaborative spirit in Beijing’s contemporary art industry has paved the way for the proliferation of new galleries and museums in Beijing. On April 25th, the opening ceremony of our participant CHOI CENTER and its opening exhibition “ReBirth – Encountering Nature” was successfully carried out. Art galleries in Beijing have also maintained their exhibition programs and presented exciting new projects. In these current circumstances, all galleries and non-profit institutions have shown amazing resilience and determination to maintain the healthy art landscape and we are so grateful to see it.

Gallery installation with three paintings on blue walls
Installation view of Austin Lee: Human Nature at M WOODS 798 in Beijing. Photography by Xiao Niu/ Zhao Yihan, courtesy of M WOODS.

CM: How do you hope the art world in Beijing will change in the next five years?

RE: Our vision is to build a future-oriented, professional and international platform conducive to dialogue about contemporary art. GWBJ has actively worked with an academic committee and runs a rigorous selection process to ensure we present the most innovative exhibitions each year. Also, we want to strengthen the local landscape, which would help connect Beijing with the international art scene. We were keen to collaborate with galleries outside of Beijing—both across China and around the world—to expand the platform’s global reach and include more diverse voices and programs from artists who are influencing and establishing the course of contemporary culture Challenging forms of creative expression. In short, we hope to solidify the strength of Beijing’s contemporary art scene and its place in the global art calendar.

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