The 798 Photo Gallery, established in 2003, was the first photography gallery in China and takes its name from its location in the famous 798 art district. The district is a Bauhaus inspired compound, made up of converted factories and warehouses. Galleries are expansive here and are much bigger in scale than what we see in Scotland; with high ceilings, industrial metalwork and large glass frontages, they compliment the work perfectly. Coach loads of tourists are dropped off at 798 daily; as a result you will find a strange mix of interesting contemporary art venues, alongside shops selling ‘arty’ souvenirs, such as mugs with a famous Chinese artwork printed on them. One of my favourite places in 798 is Timezone 8: in my mind the best art and design bookshop in Beijing!
The 798 Photo Gallery was set up by a husband and wife team, Xu Weiying and Chen Guang Juin. Although they both run other unrelated businesses, they felt there was a need to provide a gallery which supports photographers. They’ve found it a struggle to survive because they rely entirely on artwork sales. They explained to me that although China has the second largest art market in the world, the Chinese don’t tend to buy photography as they think it can be too easily duplicated; in a country where fake merchandise is prolific, its easy to understand these reservations. As a result, they tend to look to an international market, which means attending art fairs and developing relationships with international collectors.
All four of the galleries I spoke to realise that in order to change the perception of photography as some sort of ‘lesser’ artform or not as valuable, more education needs to be carried out with the younger generations. With the non- existence of education programmes within galleries, and the lack of funding to initiate them, this may well take some time.