China’s capital and its surrounding regions have long been filled with cultural treasures, but from 2019 the area is set to become a $2,8-billion art epicentre. Here’s why you need to add Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei to your bucket list.
A lot is on the cards for China’s Beijing and its northern region. In 2019, the brand new Beijing Daxing International Airport is set to open, promising high-speed rail connections to the surrounding areas and a 144-hour visa-free entry for international travellers. Come 2022, Beijing will play host to the Winter Olympics. And, according to the Telegraph, the Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei region is making strides to upgrade its notoriously polluted air quality, nearly halving its number of smoggy days from 2013 to 2017. It’s a promising start.
But the area’s regeneration isn’t just about establishing its eco-friendly, easy-to-navigate status to tourists. It’s about positioning the region as a new cultural hotspot: an art-lover’s paradise. Which is why the announcement at the 2018 Venice Architecture Biennale is so exciting: the unveiling of Valley XL.
As partners to this year’s biennale, Valley XL and XL Project took centre stage in Venice, and given the sheer scale of the project, it’s no wonder. At nearly 1 000 acres in Hebei’s Xinglong Valley, and an estimated investment of $2,8-billion, Valley XL – whose first buildings are due to open in 2019 – promises everything from a modern and contemporary art museum to an art park, studios, artist residencies and a Valley XL Museum. Already, heavyweights including curator and multi-media artist Li Zhenhua and acclaimed filmmaker Ju Anqi are advising on the project – adding a refreshing injection of art-centred voices to the development.
‘We are looking to bring in the best cultural professionals and institutional partners, to work together to create an environment that is tailored for the artistic community right from the outset,’ said Zhenhua. ‘Ultimately, we hope to create an international platform which meets artists’ needs, creates a dialogue globally, and nurtures the cultural scene here long into the future.’
But what will it really be like? Perhaps China’s pavilion at the 2018 Venice Biennale – created in partnership with Valley XL – offers a glimpse. Titled ‘Building a Future Countryside’, the showcase considered the complex, layered tensions of rapid modernisation and development in China’s rural areas. It’s just a small picture of the challenges that lie ahead for this new, cultural ‘eco city’: bringing the old and new together harmoniously remains the perennial challenge of any development. But when you hope to establish a new cultural epicentre, the authenticity of how this challenge is tackled is heightened – and becomes all the more important to get right.
Sarah Browning-de Villiers is an art writer who contributes to titles including House and Leisure and Harper’s Bazaar Art.