|Xiang Jing's Mortals-Endless Tower featuring 10 stacked acrobats was on display in October 2012 as part of 798 Art Festival in Beijing. (GT/Xu Ming)|
Wandering around the 798 Art Zone in Chaoyang District of Beijing on a weekday is enjoyable, particularly because there are none of the roaring crowds that descend on weekends or holidays. The downside is that many galleries are either empty or closed: only souvenir shops seem to be flourishing. The quietness in the galleries foreshadows the fate of the art zone.
A report by Art Market Research Center released in January shows that in 2012, the number of galleries in 798 dropped from 207 to 173, and that it had the biggest fluctuation of any art zone in China.
"I'm not sure about the specific number, but indeed more galleries have pulled out in the past two years than before, including some big ones," Zhu Qi, a curator who frequents the 798 Art Zone, told the Global Times. "It relates to both the current art environment and the galleries' choices."
Among those leaving are Hanmo Art Gallery and Times Space, which fall into the category of "big ones." As one of the oldest galleries in China, Hanmo Art Gallery was established in 1997 and moved to 798 in 2004. Since the gallery consistently pays attention to young artists, it has been reputed as the "DreamWorks of young artists."
Lin Song, director of Hanmo, revealed to Beijing Times that the gallery moved away from 798 directly due to rising rent and the ecological change in the art zone. "The rent rose by five times since 2004, and we find the one-year renting contract unstable and unfavorable for us to make long-term plans," Lin said.
The space Times Space used was taken back by the lease holder of 798 last November due to a dispute about rent and preferential policies. As reported by Beijing Times, Xu Yong, director of Times Space and one initiator of the art zone, said that the rent per square meter rose from 1.5 yuan per day to 3.5 yuan when their contract expired in 2011, which is unacceptable for Times Space given its present situation.
To him, since rent is the biggest expense for a gallery, many cannot bear the increasing cost amid a worsening market for contemporary art.
In response to the complaints about high rent, Chen Tong, who is in charge of the 798 Art Zone's real estate service center, said high rent is partly caused by subleasing. "Many galleries enter the zone by getting places from those who are subleasing instead of signing a contract with us directly," Chen told the Global Times.
He admitted that the rent did rise with time, as the market law regulates, since the real estate company is not a non-profit organization. "But we are trying our best to encourage galleries. There are favorable policies for galleries: the rent for galleries is 1.5-2 times less than that for commercial shops. We hope people can directly contact us for renting."
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