‘Art is a Thinking to Enlightens the Future’: art as a brand, art as aspiration
Since the district’s official classification as a Creative Industries Precinct in 2006, 798 has spawned a range of cultural enterprises, many of which have taken on the idea of ‘art’ with which to brand their businesses. Walking around 798 today, the word ‘art’ is constantly flashing up before you, on billboards advertising galleries or design consultancies, on signs for gift shops, hotels, bars and cafes. Artopal, Artside, 798 Art Hotel, such and such Art Centre or Artspace … Visitors are repeatedly running into odd composite bi-products of the word ‘art’ – uses that suggest the term’s ability to ‘value-add’ to all kinds of entrepreneurial pursuits. In both English and Chinese, the word often looks raw and partial, slapped onto ventures and slipped into business titles in a way that suggests its newness – or even more so, its novelty – as a Chinese marketing category. At 798, the term ‘art’ has a faddish quality to it, a kind of hype and artificial freshness reminiscent of the thousands of so-called ‘Twenty-first Century’ housing developments, or many SoHos, under construction across the country.
To the extent that art is a brand at today’s 798, it is one that conflates notions of the global and the contemporary, and one that is consonant (or you could say ‘harmonious’) with national discourses of China’s economic development. At 798, the word ‘art’ occurs frequently alongside the terms ‘new age’ (xin shidai), international (guoji) or ‘contemporary’ (dangdai). Billboards advertising Coca Cola or Vitamin Water do so by situating 798 within a perceived pantheon of global and cultural cities (‘Available in New York, Paris, Japan, and now Beijing!’). In signs, advertisements and art-branded objects at 798, ‘art’ generally represents a component in a contemporary urban lifestyle, the latest in fashion and, by virtue, a hallmark of a Chinese cosmopolitanism.