In one of my last blogs, I wrote about the Art District 798 which you should definitely visit during your stay in Beijing. Alternatively, you can also visit Caocangdi which I visited in April 2017.
Caochangdi (草场地) is an alternative art district or village whose name literally means “grass land” because at former time, it was used to store grass for the horses (as I recall from our guide). Caochangdi is home to a diverse group of residents, including migrant workers, farmers, students and artists.
It is a rougher place than 798 Art Zone. The neighbourhood is about a 15-minute bike ride from 798 but feels like you arrive in a different world. You think you are at the Chinese country side and not in Beijing. According to our guide who is from Caochangdi the area is a mixture of a thriving migrant community mixing in with the growing artistic community. During the Cultural Revolution, the region became an Agricultural People's Commune and transitioned into a farming village.
Still it has the charm of a small village and not like a cosmopolitan city like Beijing. You will find small and good restaurants and local shops, see construction workers eating their food on the street and follow the daily life of the people in Caochangdi.
But there is the other Caochangdi, with the modern and sometimes futuristic Galleries like Galerie Urs Meile, which has a branch in Lucerne, Switzerland, Pekin Fine Arts in a large brick complex. Besides the bigger names there are many other galleries and exhibitions worth to see.
Because the rent is more affordable, the galleries tend to be larger and ask no entrance fee (most of the time we came in without paying).
Many Chinese artists have set up shops in Caochangdi, and if you know who you’re looking for you’ll see them on the streets or having a meal or beer in one of the little restaurants and coffee shops. Unfortunately, our time was limited but we will come again to Caochangdi.
Before you go there you should get a plan because it’s not so easy to navigate and find the galleries. We had the luxury of a guide who showed us the right places and gave us interesting and detailed information about Caochangdi.
I strongly recommend hop over to Caochangdi after 798. It is not so difficult to reach (Taxi or bike) and feel the contrast and the unique scenery.