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A decade ago, Alibaba began hosting an informal gathering of designers in its home city of Hangzhou. Known as Ucan, it has grown in size and scope alongside the tech giant itself. In 2020, organizers made all courses and roundtable discussions freely available online. This year’s iteration sees the event reimagined as Alibaba Design Week, which will run from May 14 to 18, and is billing itself as the most important connector of business and design.

What is Alibaba Design Week?

What began life in 2012 as a narrowly focused meeting place for Chinese designers has grown into a spectacle encompassing seemingly all creative industries. 

Front and center is the Ucan Design Conference, which connects leaders from the design and business communities with high-profile speakers (Kashiwa Sato, IDEO’s Tom Kelley, Adobe’s Eric Snowden). Utoo offers a deeper dive, informal setting for high-level and more technical discussions on design. Usee is a consumer-facing art and design exhibition, expected to draw 30,000 visitors.

Why it matters

Alibaba Design Week

Happening over Alibaba Design Week, the first Usee Art Exhibition will feature contemporary artists and retail limited-edition collaborative products. Images: Alibaba Design Week

Beyond the sheer scale of expansion, Usee is the most notable development of Alibaba’s signature event held at the Hangzhou International Expo Center. Aimed at the general public, it ties into the trend of cultural IPs (broadly known as wenchuang) that have boomed in popularity with China’s post-80s and post-90s audiences over recent years. 

On the artist side, popular contemporary creatives including Takashi Murakami, Daniel Arsham, and Damien Hirst will stage mini exhibitions and offer visitors the chance to purchase limited-edition collectibles. In addition, many of China’s leading art and design stores will be present, including How Art Museum’s store, Beijing’s UCCA Store, and new contemporary art and collectibles retailer CHOCO1ATE.

At a moment in China when the line between high-art presented in cultural institutions and mass-produced collectibles meant to be taken home is blurring, Alibaba’s five-day event promises to bring the key drivers of this trend under one roof. 

Recommended ReadingWhy China’s Culture of Brand Collaborations MattersBy Jing Culture & Commerce
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What they say

“We hope to integrate fashion trends, art and design, and new business, by bringing together 100 art and design masters from home and abroad. This five-day art and design feast will see the release of many limited-edition artists’ products, show emerging technologies, and the collaborations between Alibaba Design and others across various fields.” — Alibaba Design Week Usee prospectus

What it will look like

Alibaba Design Week

Jellyfish Eyes Flower Stand by Takashi Murakami. Image: Alibaba Design Week

Alibaba Design Week

“Dot Series x Yamaha” by Damien Hirst. Image: Alibaba Design Week

“Eroded Mahjong Fa” by Daniel Arsham. Image: Archive Editions

Artist’s impression of Tmall’s Play-themed exhibition. Image: Alibaba Design Week

The How Art Museum Store. Image: HOWstore

CHOCO1ATE’s retail concept. Image: CHOCO1ATE

Categories

Cultural Collaborations, Destinations