m97 Gallery m97 Gallery—located in Shanghai’s M50 neighborhood, a string of former warehouses turned into studios and galleries—showcases a great selection of photography from both Chinese and foreign photographers. Among them are photojournalists Michael Wolf and Robert van der Hilst, both of whom examine Chinese interiors through their photos.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Like most artists of his post-’70s generation, he has a thoroughly international outlook but is also keenly aware of the Chinese aesthetic tradition. In a 2006 video animation called New Classic of Mountains and Seas I, Qiu riffed on the Shan Hai Jing, an ancient Chinese compendium of mythic geography, which he drew as a skyscraper-strewn landscape full of nightmarish creatures, using a style that echoes Chinese ink paintings.
“I wanted to see modern China through the eyes of our ancient forebears,” Qiu said, “how weird modernization must strike them, and in some respects, how frighteningly beastly.”
For help assembling an art-focused itinerary and tickets to in-demand shows, contact the specialists at WildChina. Visit in April or May or from September through November to avoid Shanghai’s oppressive humidity; in early November, when the Shanghai Art Fair is held, the weather is crisp. United flies direct from LAX and Newark Liberty to Pudong International Airport. Don’t forget you’ll need a visa—you can apply through Chinese consulates in U.S. cities.
The former French Concession is filled with quaint tree-lined streets and myriad shops, bars, and cafés retrofitted into mid-nineteenth- century French homes. Start on Wuyuan Lu at Meta Project Space, a small but innovative independent art space and reading room run by Yajing Yuan. One street over is Bank, where owner and New York transplant Mathieu Borysevicz works with artists like the provocative Chen Tianzhuo, whose use of subculture imagery and sound evokes tribal ritual. Across the street from Bank, Enrico Polato recently opened Capsule in a renovated garden house with an inaugural group show of Chinese and Western artists.
Fairmont Peace Hotel, a Deco landmark and backdrop to 46 films since its opening in 1929.Before You Go
As a result, the West Bund, a strip of land along the Huangpu River that half a century earlier was an industrial wasteland of processing factories and aircraft manufacturing, has become a new cultural corridor, like Manhattan’s Museum Mile. The three-year-old Long Museum West Bund, which houses part of China’s largest private art collection, sits amid a repurposed coal silo and was co-founded by cabbie turned billionaire Liu Yiqian, who made global headlines in 2015 with his purchase of the world’s priciest Modigliani (for a cool $170 million). A mile downriver, the Yuz Museum was also built in 2014 by the Indonesian-Chinese billionaire Budi Tek in an old airplane hangar and distinguishes itself as aggressively international, counting Alberto Giacometti and Warhol as subjects of some of its recent exhibitions.
To see Shanghai today, however, is to witness a swift evolution in urban identity. Two decades ago, caught in a frenetic bout of industrialization and urbanization that left resources for little else, the city had few museums and no art market to speak of. But China’s meteoric economic rise, along with the major optics of the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics and the 2010 Expo, signaled a new phase in the country’s renewed quest for cultural prominence. Shanghai—the city of assimilation and innovation, in contrast to Beijing, which is constrained by political conservatism—is a logical place for this to be playing out. Because China is still nominally a Socialist state, it has been particularly generous with land subsidies for cultural enterprises.
Header photo: “Suspended Gravity,” multimedia installation by Taiwanese-Canadian and Dutch artists Ed PIen and Karin Van Dam © OV Gallery
To see the work of young, emerging artists it’s worth exploring beyond M50, as more galleries showcasing their work are scattered around the city.
One of China’s first “creative industry clusters,” M50 opened in a former cotton mill after artists started working in the spaces circa 2000. Chronus Art Center is China’s first nonprofit dedicated to media art and is overseen by curator Zhang Ga. Simon Wang’s Antenna Space buoys the M50 scene with politically charged exhibits. The airy second-floor gallery represents some of China’s most subversive young artists, like Guan Xiao, whose sculptural installations and video works nod to a techno-futuristic world. Cc Foundation is a newish space run by David Chau, a co-founder of Shanghai’s ART021 Contemporary Art Fair. On your way to the FFC, refuel with fusion tapas at Commune Social.
Hankering to take a few pieces home with you? The trend for artists (such as Su Chang) doing personal, small scale sculpture of everyday objects such as walls, trees, bikes, or ink and pencil drawings on paper (Zhu Zi (Andy Mo) and Chen Xi) also happen to be decent value for art collectors, and suitcase-friendly. Before you set out, check out online publication Randian (run by Rebecca Catching) which has extensive arts listings.
A few days later, I grabbed a shaved ice with Qiu Anxiong, a Sichuanese video artist and painter in his forties whose work has been shown at New York’s
I mentioned my tour of the Biennale to Leo Xu, a Shanghai native and gallerist. We met at the newly opened Miss Ali café in the former French Concession, a neighborhood of Tudor-facade villas once inhabited by foreign nationals that has recently morphed, with its underground rave spots, specialty coffee shops, and butchers, into the city’s trendiest turf. Over cumin-covered lamb kebabs reminiscent of northern Chinese cooking, I asked about his birthplace. “It’s where the yang from yang qi started,” Xu told me with a smile, using the same word my seven-year-old self had so admiringly associated with the city. “But over the years, Shanghai has also assimilated so much of what has been poured into it from all over the world. In that sense, it’s growing confidence and independence. It doesn’t aspire to emulate the West anymore. It doesn’t want to be Paris or New York. It wants to be Shanghai.”
After climbing some concrete, spiraling stairs, I emerged on the gallery’s rooftop and gazed out at the glittering expanse of the Bund at dusk. The view brought to mind iconic old portraits of Shanghai as a fishing village on the muddy banks of the Huangpu, then as a strategic trading hub for European merchants from the 1850s through the Republican era, and, from the early 1980s, the Chinese epicenter of banking and financial power. On a previous trip, I’d visited Liu Heung Shing, one of the first photographers to capture post-Mao-era China on film and who runs the new Shanghai Center of Photography. “When you think about the earliest photos of Shanghai, and China, they were taken by Westerners using this very strange piece of imported technology called the camera,” Liu said. “But the Chinese gradually acquired the technology and have used it to capture their vision of the world.”
Of the key figures making waves on Shanghai’s contemporary art scene at the moment, Rebecca recommends keeping an eye out for exhibitions by Yang Fudong, an internationally renowned video artist, Xu Zhen (Made-in Company) who recently did a piece on “˜protest routes’ and has “a wicked sense of humour”. Li Xiaofei does video work looking at the roles of workers and management in the whole industrialization process. “He travels all over the Yangtze River Delta shooting textile factories.”
Where We Went This Weekend: Puerto Rico, Savannah, and Miami
Shanghai’s contemporary art scene (along with Beijing’s) is the most sophisticated in the country, and the pumping heart of it is at 50 Moganshan Lu, or M50 as it’s known. Once a collection of abandoned warehouses, this space near Suzhou Creek is now teeming with galleries and artists’ studios, plus a much loved graffiti wall that’s been under threat of demolition by the authorities for years, yet somehow manages to stay upright, as bold and colourful as ever.
On this rainy day last November, the museum was filled with smartly turned-out Chinese and foreigners, many of them in snaking lines for one of the most talked-about installations, The Great Chain of Being—Planet Trilogy. Visitors enter through a fuselage of an abandoned space shuttle and walk through a series of moonscape-like chambers that narrate a story about extraterrestrial discovery. One might say that this elaborate space odyssey, devised by theater director MouSen and inspired by the Chinese sci-fi writer Liu Cixin’s cult classic The Three-Body Problem, is all about the new freedoms in artistic exploration. But dwelling too long on the metaphor would distract from an experience so wildly transporting that a young boy visiting with his mother actually asked whether we had landed on a new planet.
OV Gallery, one of the city’s most interesting art spaces, is also based here. It holds regular exhibitions targeting issues in contemporary China. Gallery director Rebecca Catching, also an art critic and editor, knows Shanghai’s contemporary art scene inside out. She says: “Within M50 is M97, which has a great selection of photography from both Chinese and foreign photographers. Then there’s the granddaddy of the art scene, ShanghART, run by Lorenz Helbling, which is the oldest gallery in Shanghai and perhaps in China. It works with very serious artists, people who do amazing shows abroad and participate in biennales all around the world.”
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A 20-minute walk over the bridge and down the boardwalk lands you at the new Edouard Malingue Gallery, Shanghai, the Hong Kong dealer’s first Mainland space. In the same complex, the MadeIn Gallery and concept store was founded by a key Shanghai art scene player, artist Xu Zhen. Next door is the Yuz Museum, a private gallery opened by Indonesian-Chinese collector Budi Tek and home to works by Western masters like Fred Sandback and Maurizio Cattelan as well as major Chinese names like Huang Yong Ping, a Paris-based installation artist who co-founded the Xiamen Dada group in 1986. (Its café serves excellent Indonesian home-style cooking.) Down the road is the West Bund Art Center, which hosts West Bund Art & Design (usually in November), run by Zhou Tiehai, an early contemporary painter known for his satirical portraits of Joe Camel superimposed on Da Vinci and Goya paintings. Nearby, you’ll also find ShanghART—whose Swiss owner, Lorenz Helbling, represents notable contemporary Chinese artists Zhou Tiehai and video art pioneer Zhu Jia—and Aike-Dellarco, run by longtime local denizen Roberto Ceresia. The Shanghai Center of Photography is the country’s first such museum-quality venue, and finally there’s Qiao Space, with eclectic exhibits from wealthy karaoke club impresario Qiao Zhibing.
What do you think of Shanghai’s contemporary art scene? Have you visited any of these galleries in Shanghai? Share your thoughts below.
AroundSpace This gallery, run by a husband and wife team, was originally located in the 696 Weihai Road. Its new Bund home continues to showcase avant garde works from young artists both Chinese and foreign.
After all, it was only 40 years ago that self-expression, however tenuous, was permitted again in the aftermath of Mao’s Cultural Revolution. At that time, Chinese artists began to incorporate Western influences and conduct their own creative inquiry. Today, rich collectors like Liu and patrons like Cheng have fed a worldwide market explosion as a new generation of artists, reared in the post-revolutionary era of economic reform and globalization, are finding their place in the changed world order.
“Suspended Gravity,” multimedia installation by Taiwanese-Canadian and Dutch artists Ed PIen and Karin Van Dam © OV Gallery
The Peninsula Shanghai , with its Art Deco–style facade and interiors (sundowner cocktails at the rooftop bar, Sir Elly’s Terrace, are a must for the skyline view), or the
Started six years ago by the Shanghai native curator and dealer, Leo Xu Projects is great for playful exhibitions including solos by Taiwanese artist Michael Lin and Chinese photographer Chen Wei.
Once the British- and American-occupied International Settlement, the area approaching the Bund is filled with large stone and brick buildings in late-nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century architectural styles. In one of them is the Rockbund Art Museum, a cornerstone of Shanghai’s art scene. The curatorial team has worked with major Chinese artists like Zhang Huan and the estate of the late Chen Zhen, whose artworks responded to the cultural whiplash of living between Paris and Shanghai. Before or after, stop for dim sum at Hakkasan Shanghai or for lunch at the Fairmont Peace Hotel’s historic Cathay Room. In central Shanghai, near Xintiandi, a shopping district with renovated shikumens (stone lane houses), Adrian Cheng’s K11 Art Mall is a one-stop shop for lines like Chloé and Dolce & Gabbana as well as contemporary art exhibitions.
The intersection between art and consumerism has not escaped Adrian Cheng, the 37-year-old scion of a Hong Kong real estate empire and long-standing art patron. In 2013, Cheng founded the K11 Art Mall, which is located on the seven lowest floors of a skyscraper: The top floors are devoted to stores like Burberry and Max Mara; one basement level is a museum exhibiting contemporary Chinese art. “The point is to build a seamless ecosystem between art and retail,” Cheng told me. “In China, where people love luxury commodities but there isn’t yet a well-established history of museum-going, they can peruse art and their favorite brands in the same place.”
Work your way along the waterfront, Shanghai’s newest art strip. Start at the Power Station of Art, China’s first state-run museum for contemporary art and home to the Shanghai Biennale. Farther down the river is the Long Museum West Bund, opened by husband-and-wife collecting duo Liu Yiqian and Wang Wei. While it’s held exhibitions for major artists like Olafur Eliasson, the museum has an impressive collection of art from the Cultural Revolution, including comics by Yang Yongqing depicting the model Revolutionary citizen.
A strategy for navigating Shanghai’s art scene, by Zandie Brockett.
Museums and galleries are spread around the city in art districts to the south (West Bund) and to the north (Moganshan 50, or M50). Other art venues are clustered in the Bund and in the former French Concession. You can easily get to all sites by taxi or Didi Chuxing (the Chinese Uber), but you can also use the excellent subway system. To avoid art fatigue, give yourself at least three days to make the rounds.
“Is it a store? A gallery? You don’t know, and that’s the point,” said one of Xu’s fashionably attired staff as I entered the MadeIn Gallery, which, with its sleek minimalist decor, could be a Marni flagship decked out with art. Inside, everything resists easy categorization, starting with the half-dozen rainbow-colored statues of bodhisattvas lodged in a wall of black Styrofoam. English-language graffiti consumes an adjacent wall and reveals itself to be thought bubbles harvested from Western political cartoons. Not everything is meant to provoke discussion, though; at one end, racks of patterned silk pajamas and cotton sweatshirts imprinted with the Xu Zhen logo sell briskly for around $150 apiece.
Yet the art scene here is not just the province of mega-wealthy entrepreneurs. One evening I took a walk with Lorenz Helbling, the Swiss founder of ShanghART, one of China’s oldest galleries. It has shown some of the country’s best-known artists like expressionistic painter Zeng Fanzhi and Wang Guangyi, who’s known for appropriating images of Mao-era propaganda to lampoon the Communist Party’s stranglehold. Back in 1996, Helbling, who moved to China as a student, opened his gallery with just a chair, a table, and a phone. Last year, ShanghART relocated to a new building whose exterior resembles the rows of stacked shipping containers that once lined the river piers. Even if the symbolism harks back to China’s past, the brisk pace of construction says something about China’s effort to break new ground literally and figuratively, finding a creative identity distinctly its own.
“Suspended Gravity,” multimedia installation by Taiwanese-Canadian and Dutch artists Ed PIen and Karin Van Dam © OV Gallery
As I reflected on the city’s new contours, my eyes seized on something else. Displayed in a clear case of a bakery were rows of glass milk jars that I hadn’t seen since I was a child. “Sour milk,” the beverage was called, cinched with manila paper that fanned out like a tiny skirt. When I was small, these full-fat yogurts were the kind of treats a child saved up pocket change to buy, at one yuan per jar. I paid 15 yuan for the self-billed “old-timey” indulgence, and the sales associate told me, smiling, to “savor the past.” It occurred to me that Shanghai, which in 1935 Fortune called “the megalopolis of continental Asia, inheritor of ancient Baghdad, of pre-war Constantinople, of nineteenth-century London, of twentieth-century Manhattan,” has long been a palimpsest of its many pasts. Its willingness to embrace and assimilate change has defined it. It has also rendered the city itself a marvelous work of art.
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The PuLi Hotel and Spa , in Jing’an District, is a quick taxi ride from M50 and puts you within walking distance of the FFC galleries. To be closer to the Bund, and a short cab ride from the West Bund and Xintiandi, stay at
Shanghai Gallery of Art Right on the Bund, inside a gorgeous 1914 Neo-Renaissance structure, is the upmarket Shanghai Gallery of Art. Visiting te windowed, loft-like space is its own treat. But the SGA, Catching says, also “tends to do some interesting group and solo shows and works with more established and mid-career artists.”
Kelly Ying, a stylish Chinese collector in her mid-thirties and a co-founder with her husband, David Chau, of the annual art fair ART021, is among those helping to facilitate the world’s introduction to China’s home-bred talent. Ying, who previously worked for Vogue China, has found the transition from fashion to contemporary art a seamless one: “Fifteen years ago, the rich flocked to luxury goods, especially designer brands, to announce themselves. Nowadays, the elite have art. If you are someone who’s anyone, you are an art collector.” ART021 cultivates and presents young Chinese artists like new media installationist Wang Xin and the Beijing-based painter Peng Wei, whose work has fetched nearly $250,000. This past year, both Wendi Deng (the ex–Mrs. Rupert Murdoch) and actor and art enthusiast Adrien Brody turned up. In Ying’s words, “If you are looking to the future, you probably have your eyes on Chinese artists.”
My Uber pulled up to a hulking gray factory building with a towering chimney. “This is a museum?” my driver asked wryly, articulating my own unspoken curiosity. The choice of the Power Station of Art, China’s first state-run contemporary art museum, for Shanghai’s eleventh Biennale—with 92 international artists, 26 of Chinese origin—seemed fitting, though. The converted plant, which opened five years ago in a spot on the Huangpu River that had previously been kitted out for the 2010 World Expo, says a lot about the growing importance of art in China—and of Chinese art to the world.
Shanghai’s art galleries have had a rough couple of years: In 2011, some 70 artists were evicted from 696 Weihai Road, the artists’ colony that was a cornerstone of the city’s contemporary art scene. The galleries that have managed to stay open throughout the city, though, have not only survived but also flourished—and many of the best are located right downtown. We asked Rebecca Catching—a Canadian expat who runs Shanghai’s OV Gallery—to select some of the city’s top studios for spotting contemporary art and up-and-coming talent.
In a way, though, we had. I flashed back to my own landing in a very different Shanghai, in 1992, when my mother and I stepped off the boat from our sleepy inland city of Chongqing after receiving visas to emigrate to the United States. At seven I was familiar with the city’s contours thanks to the popular TV drama series The Bund, after Shanghai’s most iconic landmark—a river promenade lined with European banks and trading houses built in a vivid parade of neoclassical, Baroque, and Gothic styles. To walk along the Bund is to experience the most glamorous city in China the way European merchants and the Chinese upper crust must have done in generations prior. It is to glimpse the Paris of the East, as the city was known, the way Noël Coward did in 1929 as he penned Private Lives in his suite at the Cathay Hotel, or Charlie Chaplin as he peered into its horizon while waltzing past the velvet curtains in the Astor House Hotel. Such was the allure of Shanghai and my perception of its yang qi, a Chinese term that means “Western-ness” but is inflected with a complicated sense of Euro-American superiority.
Xintiandi is sleek, imperfect, vexed as a space of overzealous gentrification and commercialized imagination. Ninety-six years ago, it was the site of the First National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party and where wealthy merchants lived. Then in 1949, after the Communist takeover, the shikumen dwellings were allocated to the working class, and dozens of families jostled together in a single house. Today, Xintiandi is a prime tourist destination and has the priciest real estate in the country.
To most people with an interest in contemporary Chinese art, Shanghai’s fizzing scene is absolutely riveting right now. The backdrop of political upheaval and overwhelming creative suppression through the Cultural Revolution of the 1960s and 70s, has meant that a new generation of Chinese artists are breaking ground in a way that is genuinely unique. Here are a few of our favourite art galleries in Shanghai.
Rockbund Museum of Art Consider the Rockbund—located on the northern end of the Bund—a cross between a gallery and a museum. The museum’s 1932 Art Deco home, which once belonged to the Royal Asiatic Society, hosts rotating exhibitions showcasing the best in Chinese and international artists (past exhibitors include Zhang Huan and Jenny Holzer).The space itself is also charming, especially the simple roof deck with views across the river.
I tried to walk off my meal by going on foot to Xintiandi, a former residential district of alleys and redbrick lane houses within the French Concession, which has been redeveloped into a maze of chic shops, cafés, and galleries; the area bustles with families of international and Chinese tourists, who amble along pedestrian corridors snapping selfies and sipping Starbucks lattes. While wandering down one of its smaller passageways, I saw a barrel-chested Australian examine an intricately carved shikumen, a town house with a private courtyard, a feature introduced by Western inhabitants in the 1850s.
Cathay Theatre, an Art Deco cinema renovated in 2003, a landmark in the former French Concession.
By Helen Elfer July 31, 2013 September 29, 2015 Our Places
ShanghART You can’t leave M50 without paying a visit to what Catching calls “the grand-daddy of the art scene,” Lorenz Helbling’s ShanghART, which opened in 1996. “It is the oldest gallery in Shanghai,” Catching says, “and perhaps in China. It works with very serious artists, people who do amazing shows abroad and participate in biennales all around the world.”
Xu Zhen, a 40-year-old Shanghai native and arguably the most prominent artist of his generation, co-curated Helbling’s inaugural exhibition on the West Bund and runs his own gallery a few blocks from ShangART. Since 2009, Xu has subsumed his artistic identity under an “art-creation company” named MadeIn, which functions in a way like Warhol’s Factory. As the CEO, Xu is similarly preoccupied with themes of consumerism, and brands everything with his name, as if he were a product of his own corporation.
“Aike Gallery, Don Gallery and Vanguard have all made a strong commitment to developing Shanghai’s young talent. On the Bund there is Around Space and Shanghai Gallery of Art. SGA tends to do some interesting group and solo shows and works with more established and mid-career artists.” says Rebecca.
In his office, Xu explained that he is interested in investigating clichéd stereotypes the West harbors about the East. “When we utilize Western economic structures, do we necessarily become Westernized in all other aspects? Art and culture are not like KFCs and McDonald’s,” Xu said. “They can’t be universalized and standardized. There’s a special energy in China as we explore new possibilities and find our orientation that isn’t a neat carbon copy of Europe and America.”