NBC News looks at Beijing as the new New York, the vibrant center of cultural ferment in the world:
If anything, however, the Chinese capital is enjoying a renaissance in the arts and culture – normally what would be the first casualty in a climate of recession and censorship. And it’s attracting a growing number of people from around the world who want to be part of the scene.
“Beijing has that combination of optimism, possibility, opportunity, as well as being an interesting city in its own right,” said Aric Chen, a freelance writer, curator and design consultant who recently moved here from New York City.
The 34-year-old is juggling several international projects – a book on Brazil, an exhibition in Israel, and a biennale in South Korea – any of which could be launched from another base.
But in Beijing, he found that “there is still a hunger and openness for new things, so there’s room for people like me.” Within China, he helps to oversee projects like the “100% Design Shanghai,” a major industry fair that he hopes will help to elevate the discourse on design in the country and nurture homegrown designers and artists. […]
“Paris is great, but it’s more of a place to spend money than to make money,” said Liyu Yeo, an art consultant who was living in the French capital when he decided to decamp to Beijing earlier this year. Unlike the Chinese capital, “Paris is a very established city, which means there’s a pecking order. So for younger people who want to create something or make something out of their career, it’s not always the easiest thing to do.”
Instead, Beijing’s long history is combined with a rapidly evolving infrastructure and architecture that produces a shifting yet confident energy.
“What people don’t realize is that this is an extremely textured city with historical layers that takes time to get to know,” said Chen. “Beijing has a strong sense of itself. There’s a pride in being in Beijing. But at the same time, it’s a very outward looking city in the same sense that China is increasingly outward looking. Like China, Beijing has no intention of keeping to itself.”
And the capital – with its manifold universities, think tanks, live music venues, museums, galleries, and cultural institutes – hums with a creative vigor that belies its laidback demeanor.
Jerome Sans, Art Director at the Ullens Center for Contemporary Art (UCCA) in Beijing’s 798 art district, said he had the privilege of living in New York and London in the late 70s and early 80s and sees similarities. “For me the new New York is Beijing.”
Open only two years, UCCA has become a driving force in developing a greater appreciation here for contemporary Chinese and international artists. Sans recently oversaw the opening of three different shows at the center – including a stunning installation of 34 flags painted by Yang Pei-Ming and a sweeping collection of photographic portraits of French actress Isabelle Huppert – which was initiated by the Museum of Modern Art/PS 1 in New York.
“Beijing is the single most important place for an emerging arts center,” noted Marc Hungerbuhler. In August, as Curatorial Director, he will help to launch the first Beijing 798 Biennale 2009, an independently-organized exhibition of works by more than 70 artists from China and around the world.
That’s perhaps surprising for a bureaucratic capital of a communist nation, but, as Hungerbuhler said, “Art is always flourishing in situations where things are changing dramatically or where ideology is very strong.”
The New New York is Beijing (MSNBC)