Although Beijing is usually seen as the center of the Chinese art world, there has been an explosion of art culture throughout Shanghai in recent years as well and I've managed to scope out the gems of this city's art scene over the past three months. My favorite visits include the M50 Galleries, Red Town, the Rockbund Art Museum as well as the newly opened Power Station of Art, one of two new Shanghai art venues that have been converted from structures originally built for the World Expo in 2010. With two newly established museums, Shanghai, which also hosts the annual SH Contemporary Art Fair, is catching up to Beijing.
Within the sweeping spaces of what used to be an out-of-use industrial site lies M50. Home to Shanghai's most dynamic art scene, it has been compared to Beijing's 798 Art Zone and New York's SoHo. With a wall of graffiti leading visitors to the cluster of 50 or so galleries, M50 is unique in that it displays the works of some of the more established names in the Chinese art world. The ShanghART Gallery, for instance, exhibits pieces by acclaimed artists such as Bird Head, MadeIn Company and Yang Fu Dong.
Though some people don't consider M50 to be anything out of the ordinary, galleries like ShanghART, OV, Eastlink and Bizart showcase works that demonstrate both conceptual and artistic maturity—something absent from many of the other galleries in Shanghai. Take the "Learning from the Literati 3," a show featured at the OV Gallery this past September, for instance. The idea behind this exhibit is that in today's day and age, one has little time for art, poetry or philosophy—the core components that inspired the literati of dynasties ago… good stuff, right? If you're searching for visually-impacting, thought-provoking artwork, look no further than Moganshan Lu.
Admission is free. Opening hours depend on gallery, but generally 9am-10pm daily. 50 Moganshan Lu near Suzhou Creek (莫干山路50号近苏州河, Mògānshān Lù jìn Sūzhōu Hé). (86 21) 6266 3639
Situated on the site of an old steel factory in Hongqiao district, Red Town houses a trendy hodgepodge of dainty little boutiques, cafés and bars, as well as the Shanghai Sculpture Space and the Minsheng Art Museum. In Red Town, you'll find your classic oil paintings, funky steel sculptures and paint-splattered-on-canvas-works—all very nice but nothing the world hasn't seen before.
The Minsheng Art Museum, on the other hand, offers a trove of modern art by notable names you won't find elsewhere. Recent exhibitions include Every Breath I Take by renowned Hong Kong artist Lee Kit and works by MadeIn Company. Although the galleries at Red Town don't compare to those of M50, this creative cluster, complete with a sculpture park, is still worth the visit!
Admission is free. Opening hours depend on gallery, but generally 9am-10pm daily. 570 Huaihai Xi Lu near Anshun Lu (淮海西路570号近安顺路, Huáihǎixī Lù jìn Ānshùn Lù). (86 21) 6281 7382
Rockbund Art Museum
After undergoing complete renovation in 2010, the former Shanghai Museum reemerged as the Rockbund Art Museum. Unlike M50 and Redtown, the Rockbund is a private museum with no permanent collection of its own. A five-story building fashioned in the Art Deco design of yesteryear, it served as the Shanghai headquarters of the Royal Asiatic Society during Shanghai's glamorous pre-war days. Located on the Bund, the Rockbund is still regarded as a more formal art venue than other galleries across town today.
As a building with such historical prominence, the Rockbund displays only the most deserving of works like those of Huang Yong Ping and Sun Yuan & Peng Yu. Overall, the entire museum feels more organized, more sophisticated and better curated than your downtown galleries. So if you're feeling fancy or nostalgic for Shanghai's golden days, hop in a cab and head for the Rockbund.
Admission is RMB 15. Open 10am-9pm on Thursday-Saturday; 10am-6pm Tuesday, Wednesday and Sunday; closed Monday. 20 Huqiu Lu near Beijingdong Lu (虎丘路20号近北京东路, Hǔqiū Lù jìn Běijīngdōng Lù). (86 21) 3310 9985
Power Station of Art
The latest addition to Shanghai's art scene, the Power Station of Art was recently converted from the Pavilion of the Future, a structure built for the World Expo in 2010, to become China's very first state-run contemporary art museum. It is also home to this year's 9th Shanghai Biennale, which opened in October and will continue for six months.
This year's Biennale embodies the theme of Reactivation and features works hand-picked by star curator Qiu Zhijie and one of three co-curators, Jens Hoffman, both of whom are notable names in the art world. "... the biennial is in an old power plant, so we are trying to reactivate it with and through art," Jens Hoffman, a co-curator of this year's Shanghai Biennale, said. "In a way, that's what art always does—it activates something, activates the thought process. That's really the primary goal here, to exhibit art, to be provocative and guide people in certain directions." (Via: Randian.com)
The primary difference between a biennale and an exhibition hosted by a museum, however, is that biennales are much more open and general in terms of concept, which is what I found unique about this art showcase. This year's biennale also spotlights a wide collection of Chinese and international art, something I wish I saw more of during my stay in Shanghai. In order to attend the Shanghai Biennale, however, you are supposed to call and register for admission ahead of time. With a Chinese only website, the registration process can be a real pain so many people simply show up at the door... odds are, you'll get in.
Admission is free. Open 9am-5pm on Tuesday-Sunday. Lane 20 Huayuangang Lu near Miaojiang Lu (花园港路20弄近苗江路, Huāyuángǎng Lù jìn Miáojiāng Lù). (86 21) 3127 8535