Beijing's best public art installations

Discover some of the city’s most beautiful, ugly and downright bizarre art pieces

Time Out explores some of the city’s most beautiful, ugly and downright bizarre public art installations. 

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Join Time Out on WeChat (ID: TimeOutBeijingEN) for an interactive guide to all of the art featured. Simply follow"Wei Chat_100cm" our account by scanning the QR code and send a message telling us which spot you want to visit. We will instantly respond with the address of the monument and a fun trivia fact about each work of art. Neat, huh?
Workers’ Stadium statues
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Workers’ Stadium statues

What is it?

Inspired by Western Classical aesthetics, but with their own Chinese twist, the athletic statues that surround the Workers’ Stadium speak of an ambitious, utopian era. They were erected, along with the stadium itself, to celebrate the tenth anniversary of the People’s Republic of China in 1959. The artists are credited only as ‘the master artists’ of the Central Academy of Fine Arts. 

The expert opinion
‘Elegant and dignified, the athletes are beautiful and muscular… exulting with pride and youthful vigour.’ Edward Co, author of Athletes Statues at Beijing Workers’ Stadium. 

Time Out says 
Don’t get us wrong, they’re lovely looking, but being greeted by such perfect specimens of health and vitality when you emerge into the blinding daylight from either Mix or Vics nightclubs at five in the morning (with the beginnings of a hangover) is exactly what you don’t need.

Beijing Workers’ Stadium, GongtiBei Lu, Chaoyangdistrict  工人体育场北路

Red Dinosaurs
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Red Dinosaurs

What is it?

Towering next to the entrance of the UCCA is a three-storey cage holding three ferocious plastic dinosaurs. The piece is designed by Sui Jianguo, former professor of sculpture at CAFA. Branded with the words ‘Made in China’, the powerful and constrained dinosaur statues have clear political overtones. 

The expert opinion
‘Best known for his iconic hollow Mao suits and red dinosaurs, Sui’s gigantic red T-Rexes are a tower of power, or a relic of a time gone by.’ James Elaine, founder, Telescope exhibition space. 

Time Out says 
It may well have deep political meaning, but every time we see it we can’t help wanting to climb up that frame and a ride a T-Rex.

Ullens Center for Contemporary Art (UCCA),4Jiuxianqiao Lu,Chaoyangdistrict朝阳区酒仙桥路4号

What You Saw May Not be the Truth
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What You Saw May Not be the Truth

What is it?

Chen Wenling’s slapstick sculpture is of a raging, farting bull ramming a man into the wall in this upmarket shopping mall. This piece of art, more commonly known as The Farting Bull, has become well known for both its humour and its comment on global finance – the victim of the bull’s fart-powered charge is the infamous Ponzi scheme fraudster Bernard Madoff. 

The expert opinion
‘Parkview Green has a very impressive private collection. The displays in the mall raise questions of how private and public tastes and interests should be negotiated in such privately owned public space.’ Tang Zehui, director of curatorial affairs, Red Brick Art Museum. 

Time Out says 
This one appeals to the whole family: critique and satire for the adults, cartoon humour for the kids. If we had 1RMB for every time we’ve seen ironic selfies taken in front of this...

ParkviewGreen,9Dongdaqiao Lu,Chaoyangdistrict朝阳区东大桥路9号(世贸天阶西门对面)

Shixiang Sheng
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Shixiang Sheng

What is it?

Yue Minjun is one of China’s most internationally recognised artists. Since the late 1980s, his trademark motif has been that of faces eerily frozen in wild laughter. It is this motif which is used in the Shixiang Sheng sculptures outside the Today Art Museum. 

The expert opinion
‘A maze of giant silver monochrome figures, all in a state of euphoric laughter. Walking amongst them, perhaps you will be the one to figure out “what’s so funny?”’James Elaine, founder, Telescope gallery. 

Time Out says 
These laughing figures have a polarising effect on Beijingers. We’ve witnessed commuters’ mornings being brightened and young children bursting into tears at the site of such bombastic mirth.

Today Art Museum,32Baiziwan Lu,Shuangjing,Chaoyangdistrict朝阳区百子湾路32号

Olympic Park Observation Tower
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Olympic Park Observation Tower

What is it?

A bizarre, futuristic tower that looms like an elongated mushroom 243 metres into the sky. 

The expert opinion
‘The tower’s design curiously stitches together pieces of the Olympic Park’s sights to form a new urban artefact.’ Max Gerthel, architect and director, Institute for Provocation. 

Time Out says 
Details are sketchy, but the tower’s observation deck is slated to finally open next month – after years of construction.

OlympicPark Observation Tower,Beijing Olympic Park,KehuiNan Lu,Chaoyangdistrict 朝阳区北辰东路15号

Red Memory Series
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Red Memory Series

What is it?

These two statues are part of Chen Wenling’s famous Red Memory series. 

The expert opinion
‘A contradictory negotiation occurs between the anxieties of consumer society and a desire to create images of extreme humanity.’ Billy Tang, curatorial director, Magician Space. 

Time Out says 
Oddly, the grotesque statues are a favourite spot for adoring parents to take photos of their children.

HualianWudaokou Shopping Plaza,28Chengfu Lu,Haidiandistrict北京市海淀区中关村东路8号东升大厦1层(出口往西)

Lovely Panda
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Lovely Panda

What is it?

Lifted into place in 2012, Lovely Panda is an enormous, four-metre-tall panda cuddling a giant baby panda while both nibble happily on bamboo stalks. Originally constructed to provide a landmark and ease navigation among the identical construction sites of Wangjing, the pandas still guard the eastern entrance to the maze of completed new-build apartments. Just say, ‘Meet me by the pandas.’ 

The expert opinion
‘Lovely Panda embodies an image [that is] out of kilter with the allegories of family cohesion and social unity typical of most art forms found in the public sphere. We are left to ponder at one solitary parental panda overlooking the safety of a single-child infant panda.’ Billy Tang, curatorial director, Magician Space. 

Time Out says 
Towering above a smoggy, dusty junction and building site, these two giant pandas seem very far from their natural habitat of lush green bamboo groves. They may be lovely, but they also inspire pity. Would you want to be stuck in Wangjing forever?

Rainbow Bridge
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Rainbow Bridge

What is it?

There are three versions of this landmark around the city. Two sit at the eastern and western ends of Chang’an Jie. The other, a later replica, is in Wangjing, and calls for the use of ‘wisdom to crate wealth in Wangjing’ [sic]. 

The expert opinion
‘Rainbow Bridge appears to be an amalgamation of three separate generations of public signage. There is a neo-70s socialist aesthetic evoked in the faded rainbow sections, 1980s-style chunky lettering and the feel of expired hi-tech enterprises from the boom years of the 1990s.’ Billy Tang, curatorial director, Magician Space. 

Time Out says 
An amalgamation of three generations of Gay Pride events, more like.

China Agricultural Exhibition Center statues
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China Agricultural Exhibition Center statues

What is it?

Designed by Chen Shengzheng and his students from the Lu Xun Academy of Fine Arts to celebrate the tenth anniversary of the People’s Republic of China, these statues depict agricultural workers united in leading a chariot towards a bright new future. The figures are strong, angular and heavily influenced by Soviet realism. 

The expert opinion
‘Not since the arrival of Buddhism a millennium and a half earlier has Chinese sculpture been so directly affected by foreign examples. The style mimics the Soviet style and is charged with political symbolism.’ Eric Hyer, associate professor of political science, Brigham Young University. 

Time Out says 
The statues, as well as the building itself, are one of the best examples in the city of Chinese adoption and adaptation of Soviet aesthetics – Soviet realism with Chinese characteristics.

AgriculturalExhibition Center,16East Third Ring Road,Chaoyangdistrict全国农业展览馆

Arrow Factory
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Arrow Factory

What is it?

Founded in 2008, Arrow Factory is a one-room exhibition space with a floor-to-ceiling window facing onto Jianchang Hutong. Sat between a veggie market and bing shop, this tiny alternative art space in an unassuming part of old Beijing has a new exhibition roughly every month. 

The expert opinion
‘Public art at its best. Arrow Factory challenges what is visible/invisible in art and leads this discourse back towards the urban centre.’ Billy Tang, curatorial director, Magician Space. 

Time Out says 
With no regular press releases or social media, Arrow Factory keeps a relatively low profile. As a result, you never know what you’ll find when you walk past the space – and it constantly surprises.

ArrowFactory,28Jianchang Hutong,Dongchengdistrict东城区国子监箭厂胡同38号

The Bogui Cauldron
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The Bogui Cauldron

What is it?

A replica of a Zhou dynasty ceremonial cauldron. The ‘gui’ in Bogui, as it is known in Chinese, gave its name to Gui Jie, Beijing’s riotous food street. 

The expert opinion
‘It’s interesting that the Bogui has been adopted as a promotional symbol for Gui Jie. There’s no real historical connection, the artefact has gained sentimental value in this new context.’ Radium Tam, Tsinghua Cultural Heritage Conservation Center. 

Time Out says 
Wait, what? Then why do we call it Ghost Street? To find out, check out our WeChat art tour!

DongzhimenJunction (opposite Raffles City mall),Chaoyangdistrict东直门南大街1号

Sun Ritual mural
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Sun Ritual mural

What is it?

The mural is a depiction of the ancient Chinese custom of sacrificial offerings to the sun gods. Its 15-metre span also tells the two fables of Han Yi and Kua Fu taming the sun, myths that may feel pertinent as you try to withstand Beijing’s raging heat. 

The expert opinion
‘A static mural is a counterpoint to the [bustling] life of the park.’ Pat Carswell, Beijing Review, 2012. 

Time Out says 
The most colourful of the entries here, the lively yellows and greens of this mural still have the power to brighten up any grey Beijing day.

Ritan ParkSouth Gate,GuanghuaLu,Chaoyangdistrict朝阳区日坛公园南门

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