Art Walk: Hutong galleries

Beijing's most progressive art is happening in the hutongs


Who would have thought that the oldest part of Beijing would become the epicentre of the most experimental gallery scene in the city? Not us. While 798 and Caochangdi have been established zones for galleries and art professionals for nearly two decades, the inner-Second Ring Road scene has only just gathered steam in the last few years.

The dusty hutongs have proved the ideal canvas for an explosion of alternative spaces. Alternative thought and grassroots think tank HomeShop pioneered a scene that champions art outside the commercial domain, and since its rent-induced closure at the end of 2013, a glut of new groups have cropped up to advance the cause. Rather than sequestering themselves in an ‘art community’ on the outskirts of town, the hutong galleries integrate into the living, breathing fabric of the city.

Exhibitions gravitate towards performance art, one-off events and installation pieces. Artists showcased are often pre-‘emerging’ (in the traditional sense) – young graduates with sharp visions but little in terms of a CV – and the founders of the spaces are young, plugged-in foreigners and locals, trying for something unprecedented in the city.

Galleries often don’t keep regular hours; they open for the duration of an exhibition, are viewable 24 hours a day or can be visited by appointment only. These spaces are a testament to the fact that the Beijing art scene is anything but stagnant.

Don't forget that you can get this tour delivered straight to your WeChat. Just scan the QR code or add TimeoutbeijingEN to follow us then send us a message with the area name (798, Caochangdi or hutongs) or gallery name and we'll send the details.



The galleries


*A one-day tour may be unfeasible given the galleries’ irregular hours. Plan ahead – book appointments for a sunny Saturday, leaving plenty of time between stops.


Arrow Factory


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Founded in 2008, Arrow Factory is one of Beijing’s longest-running, independent alternative art spaces. The 15sqm space reclaims an existing storefront – it was previously a vegetable stand – where founders Rania Ho and Wang Wei work with curator Pauline J. Yao on site-specific installations designed for 24-hour viewing.


The installations at Arrow Factory ‘are provisional in nature, highly contingent upon the immediate environment and [are intended] to form meaningful responses to the diverse economic, political and social conditions of our given locality’. As well as being a pioneer in the philosophy of Beijing’s alternative spaces, Ho is also behind some of the city’s most stylish restaurants, such as Taco Bar, with her design collective Kupa Studios.

No hours. ‘Open’ 24 hours daily.


Aotu Studio


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Established early this year by an odd power duo of hairstylist Ray Wu, who previously worked at Toni & Guy, and curator PIlar Escuder, a former artist-in-residence at HomeShop, this hair salon and art venue might seem an unlikely combo. In actuality, it’s a prime example of the integration of art and daily life that the hutong scene pledges. Upstairs you’ll find a beautifully airy hair salon, downstairs a gallery-slash-performance-space-slash-dancefloor- slash-makeshift-cinema (screenings every Wednesday). It’s only been six months, but Aotu is shaping up to be a central figure in Dongcheng’s gallery scene.

Open 10.30am-10.00pm daily.


I: project space


German curators Antonie Angerer and Anna Eschbach opened this Banqiao Hutong spot in the summer of 2014. Just out of graduate school, the pair moved to Beijing a year ago and promptly established this gallery, which focuses on video and performance art. First and foremost, I: project space is ‘a platform for non-commercial art projects’ and ‘a space for artists to work outside of the art market’. Take that, 798.

Open by appointment only.


LAB47


On Dongsiqitiao, this narrow, hallway of hutong space is pushing the spirit of the inner-Second Ring art scene south. Aurélie Martinaud and Geng Han established LAB47 in autumn 2014. A glass façade makes peeking in possible at all hours, but more than just an exhibition centre, the pair aim for it to be a creative meeting space for the public – whether artists or curious passersby from the street.

No hours. ‘Open’ 24 hours daily.


Jiali Gallery


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Opened in 2012 by Daphné Mallet, Jiali Gallery takes it moniker from the Chinese for ‘at home’. Perhaps not surprisingly, the gallery exhibits work in the setting of a private residence. It’s a commercial space but radically different than most in the city and a forerunner in the recent burst of alternative hutong spaces. Mallet, who worked for five years (2005-2010) for Xin Dong Cheng Space for Contemporary Art in 798, has her finger on the pulse of the grassroots arts scenes in both Europe and China. Consequently, the programmes at Jiali are wonderfully eclectic; from screen-printed works by French artist David Ancelin to light sculptures of Buddhist mudra by Chinese artist Ren Bo.

Open 2-7pm Thu-Sat, or by appointment.


Intelligentsia Gallery


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Intelligentsia Gallery is the kind of place with a manifesto. Founded by Puerto Rican and French couple Cruz Garcia and Nathalie Frankowski, Intelligentsia has been a strong force in the last year. Most recently, Garcia and Frankowski organised ‘Live At’, a programme guest-curated by Xia Yangguo, which featured 35 consecutive days of one-day exhibitions by 35 different artists and collectives. Intelligentsia has also been pumping out publications, exhibition catalogues and a zine.

Open by appointment or for performance-based exhibitions.


Flicking Forehead


Established by Wang Cici, previously involved with HomeShop, Flicking Forehead is less a gallery than an ongoing project. Wang writes,‘By trying to set up a parallel micro-reactor between cyberspace and physical space, “Flicking Forehead” aims to explore how different relations, processes and structures interact and chemically react within it. As blood, flesh, and bones.’ Not sure we get it, but we sure as hell support it.

Currently without a fixed location due to landlord issues. June’s exhibition will be held at SOS bar.


Institute for Provocation


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On the poetically named Heizhima (‘Black Sesame’) Hutong, Institute for Provocation’s (IFP) project space opened in June 2014, although the organisation has been active since 2008, spurred on by founders Chen Shuyu, Max Gerthel and Els Silvrants-Barclay. Presently, IFP focuses on a residency programme for cross-disciplinary artistic and architectural work. Beyond functioning as the residency meeting area, its Black Sesame Project Space, curated by Tianji Zhou, presents a programme of solo exhibitions, artist talks and performances.

Open by appointment or for performance-based exhibitions.

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