Lin Tianmiao at work in her studio in Songzhuang (Natalie Behring for The New York Times)

When you arrive in this town a fast 40 minutes on the expressway from Beijing, you pass under a modern version of an old-style Chinese pailou, or gate, inscribed in Chinese and English with “Songzhuang, China,” which would seem a rather grand way for an ordinary town on the North China Plain to describe itself.

And Songzhuang at first seems like a medium-sized town of no particular distinction, with its long, ramshackle main street lined by ordinary concrete storefronts — little charm here. Then you notice the Land Rovers and Mercedes sedans, the art galleries and exhibition halls, and you’ve arrived in what has become over the past decade one of the biggest and liveliest artists’ colonies in the world.

To be sure, the feverish, ever-changing and now internationally renowned Chinese art scene has other centers of activity, most famously Beijing’s Dashanzi, otherwise known as the 798 District, a sprawling warren of galleries, shops and artists’ studios often compared to New York’s Soho of about two decades ago.


Richard Bernstein
New York Times