Millennials are being priced out of London
Art District: A Guide to the Most Creative Neighborhoods in the World
Art is forever, they say, but the time and place where it's made are always fleeting. Urban arts districts tend to spring up where creative people can afford to work, adding value to that area until it becomes too expensive to stay. Here are five corners of five cities that are thriving right now. The art may last, but the scene will surely go on, so experience it while you can.
Madrid's reputation as a city of art is largely based on the work of great dead painters in the permanent collections of the three major museums: Prado, Thyssen-Bornemisza and Reina Sofía. This last treasure house, the third point in this “golden triangle”, is like a mausoleum for masterpieces of the 20th century, especially Picasso's Guernica. But right behind the building, almost in the shade, living, breathing artists and gallery owners make, show and sell new work along and around a side street called Calle del Doctor Fourquet.
During the post-millennial real estate boom in Spain, artists were being priced out of the fancier areas. Many were also hurt by cuts in public arts funds following the 2008 financial crisis. Relatively low rents drew creative types to Lavapiés, the city's oldest barrio, where aging tenement houses in steep, narrow streets are home to a mixed community of working-class families. international students and immigrants from Senegal, China, Bangladesh and Ecuador. (Picasso himself once lived here as a teenage art student.) You could still find a certain countercultural element here, long after La Movida - the punk, post-French art and music movement of the 1980s - burned out across town in Malasaña.
Marta Cervera, a key figure in La Movida and an experienced supporter of emerging talent, relocated her gallery in this way in 2013. A few doors down is La Casa Encendida, a neoclassical bank building that has been converted into a cultural center for installations, concerts and workshops. A few blocks away, the former tobacco factory in La Tabacalera is now devoted to visual and performance art, from photo exhibitions to noisy monthly lucha libre tournaments where masked men and women beat each other with folding chairs and fire extinguishers.
Adjacent alleys and facades are covered with eye-catching murals by artists such as Okuda, Suso33 and Jonipunto. All of these illustrations of the local cultural capital inspired Time Out magazine to list the surrounding district of Embajadores as the coolest neighborhood in the world in 2018. For some, this is the beginning of the end, and warning signs have been written in graffiti on brightly painted walls: "Your street art increases my rent."
798 Art Zone, Beijing
It was first built as a military-industrial facility on the fringes of post-war Beijing, where thousands of workers made components for weapons and electronics. Later, the abandoned Bauhaus-style buildings became hiding places for avant-garde painters and poets exiled by a hostile communist party. Today it is a hub of global art and trade, where multinational corporations sponsor exhibitions, festivals and fashion shows in galleries that are still adorned with Maoist slogans.
The sheer immersive irony of the scene makes up for the loss of mystique. A visitor can no longer feel much of a sense of discovery when he arrives in the now well-known 798 Art Zone (or Dashanzi Art District) and realizes that boutique hotels and brewpubs have been created through high investments. But art itself can still have otherworldly effects in this environment. I will never forget to see Tatsuo Miyajima's installation Ashes to Ashes, Dust to Dust at the Ullens Center for Contemporary Art - Factory 798's darkened central chamber filled with flashing, glowing, star-shaped dots of digital light and LED Buddhist cosmology. Digits converted to count every birth, death and rebirth in the universe.
From a worldly perspective, it is impressive that the Art Zone continues to exist. It is located in the ever-growing real estate bubble area in Beijing, and developers have built towers of luxury apartments around it. The government is not exactly friendly to certain creatives either. Police raids often targeted the local Queer Film Festival, and artist activist Ai Weiwei, who designed his own home nearby, is almost as well known for his 2011 arrest as he is for his work. Brother Nut's Nongfu Spring Market display of 9,000 bottles of polluted groundwater was released worldwide in 2018 when it was investigated by authorities.
If there is a front line in China between the power of art and the power of the state, it could still run right through this point.
The meat packing district of the Danish capital is divided into three separate “meat towns”, which are color-coded in white, gray and brown depending on the age and style of the buildings. Each of these cities is still partly active in the field of slaughtering and processing, but all were partly used for culture and leisure: food markets, pubs, exhibition halls.
Art dealer Morten Poulsen had a small gallery in the white city, but the space barely had enough space to hang a fraction of his paintings, and the area became so popular with partygoers that the Friday night openings drew as many drunks as invited guests. In 2017, Galerie Poulsen moved into a much larger space - a former slaughterhouse in the older, quieter brown town that has recently become the "more serious" art district, as the owner puts it. The old cobblestone streets and iron windows make it look like New York's meat packing district, says Poulsen, which matches his list of mostly American artists.
“America just makes great painters who appeal to my aesthetic. I want to say that all of my shows are too much with too much on top. Everything is getting bigger - the prices, the art fairs. But Denmark is very small. To keep growing, you have to look outside. “Other galleries like V1 and Bo Bjerggaard also show off young Danish and Scandinavian talent, and while the“ cool factor ”of the brown city doesn't necessarily attract a lot of buyers,“ you never know when someone will come in and do a piece and make a purchase make, ”says Poulsen.
Unlike gallery owners in other post-industrial zones and red light districts, he and his neighbors don't have to worry about being bought up by developers. The Copenhagen city government controls the rent and protects the historic architecture of Kødbyen. Plus, that soil contains spilled blood and meat-freezing chemicals worth two centuries' worth - now safely sealed, but their presence makes condominiums deeply unlikely.
The Chilean poet Pablo Neruda deserves a lot of credit for the art scene in the Pacific port of Valparaíso and especially on Cerro Bellavista, the hill around his house. The house, La Sebastiana, remains a work of art in itself. Designed by Spanish architect Sebastián Collado (who planned to live in it but died before he could) and painted with murals, sculptures and stained glass by Neruda's friend María Martner, it is now a national monument and public museum.
A casual diplomat, unofficial ambassador to his hometown, and patron of the arts, Neruda invited painters he met while posting to Mexico City in the early 1940s to work and display in Valparaíso, and encouraged his neighbors to share their political views to express publicly creatively directly on the walls of the barrios. After the 1973 military coup - Neruda died a few days later under suspicious circumstances - street art became a popular form of protest, a dangerous act of defiance that often led to the artist's "disappearance".
The overthrow of the dictator Augusto Pinochet's regime provided the city with an opportunity to revive in the 1990s, and murals became a newly (semi) legalized means of restoring color. The Museo a Cielo Abierto, or Open Air Museum, is a suite of 20 celebratory pieces by artists such as Mario Toral and Roberto Matta. While not all of them are in good shape, they remain near-sacred touchstones for an ongoing tradition that has turned the neighborhood into something of a gallery.
Street performers today still use the typical Brigada Ramona Parra (BRP) style developed by left-wing activists in the late 1960s, but you will also find New York wild-style graffiti, Fauvist-Impressionist landscapes, mythical-mathematical monsters of the Spanish Expats Cuellimangui and eco-utopian murals on the sides of high-rise buildings, commissioned by the leading local duo Un Kolor Distinto.
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