03 May My favourite art spots in Shanghai
With 7 days to discover the world’s biggest city, Shanghai, I only had enough time this April to dart around the art scene.
Shanghai is home to a lot of wealth, and where there is wealth there is art. In Shanghai, there’s also a desire to think big.
My favourite destination was, in fact, a small, unpretentious space – the Shanghai Center of Photography, or SCôP. The Center had elliptical-shaped exhibition rooms, a triangular inner courtyard, curved walls, high ceilings and almost a monastic reverence to the artworks.
I just wish I knew the story behind the accent on the ‘ô’.
Follow the young Shanghainese
To create a Shanghai city art trail, my tip would be to follow the young Shanghainese with their Off-White c/o Virgil Abloh streetwear and Balenciaga trainers. And to avoid the city tour guides with their peaked caps, flags and gaggles of tourists. Even then, there are a few places that only the art savvy know. (For my other, practical tips for visiting the city, please see my blog … My Top Travel Tips for Shanghai.)
Art is already deeply rooted in the Shanghai lifestyle. Here are just a few things that I noted:
- Fuzhou Road – which runs between the Bund and People’s Square – is lined with calligraphy stores.
- One of the city’s most luxurious department stores, Réel, in super-hip Nanjing West Road, has an arts and crafts workspace on the top floor, above the luxury fashion brands.
- Often I would stumble across a sole artist sketching in a park.
- Then, of course, there is the Shanghainese love of taking ‘social photos‘. For more insight into this global habit, The Social Photo by Nathan Jurgenson is a good read… yes I’m plugging this book.
The West Bund
One of the most exciting destinations for art in Shanghai is the West Bund. This new district, running along the river Huangpu, is home to the annual West Bund Art & Design Fair.
The museums and galleries are dotted along an ‘art’ corridor running down Longteng Avenue. Some venues face towards the river, others the road. Clustered together on the southern stretch of the road are the West Bund Art Center, Tank Shanghai, SCôP and West Bund 2555.
The David Chipperfield-designed Centre Pompidou x West Bund Museum Project will join them in November.
How to get to the West Bund
The West Bund, not to be confused with the historic Bund in the heart of the city, is about a 45-minute metro ride from People’s Square to Yunjin Road. The secret is to take Exit 2 from Yunjin Road station, turn left and left again, and keep on walking till you reach the West Bund Art Center.
While I was there, the Center was closed in preparation for the opening of Chanel’s Mademoiselle Privé exhibition. I hung out instead in the adjoining café… a great place for coffee, music, open sandwiches and people watching, including those working for Chanel.
Shanghai Center for Photography
Across the square from the West Bund Art Center is the Shanghai Center of Photography, or SCôP. The centre was founded in 2015 by Hong Kong-born photojournalist Liu Heung Shing, who shared the Pulitzer Prize for his work documenting the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1992.
The minimalist space opened in 2015, designed by US architects Sharon Johnston and Mark Lee. Perfect use of space and light. I loved the white ‘curator’s’ gloves left out for those wanting to leaf through the books.
I was fortunate to be there for the exhibition of the works of Dutch photographer Erwin Olaf, open till 30 May.
West Bund 2555 – small private galleries
As you come out of SCôP, turn left down the small road off the main road, and you will find a whole bunch of small galleries. Definitely worth a wander around, especially ShanghART and AIKE, although I am sure there are other good ones.
One of the galleries in West Bund 2555 is Qiao Space, owned by contemporary art collector Qiao Zhibing, known as the ‘karaoke king’. His new venture is much bigger and lies on the other river side of Longteng Avenue.
Qiao Zhibing opened Tank Shanghai this spring to “foster connections among the public, contemporary art, urban life and nature”. Its first exhibition is by teamLab of Japan: Universe of Water Particles in the Tank, Transcending Boundaries.
For me, teamLab captures immersive, experiential art at its best. Touch the cascade of water, and it parts, while the flowers – part of the work Flowers and People, Cannot be Controlled but Live Together – scatter with the flow.
(The exhibition is on till 24 August 2019. Over the same period, Tank Shanghai is also showing an exhibition of the works of Argentine sculptor Adrián Villar Rojas.)
A river walk to the Long Museum
I then took the 30-minute stroll along the river from the West Bund Art Center to the Long Museum – a pleasant walk, with views across the river, where huge barges plied the waters laden with their goods.
On my way, I passed the Yuz Museum, founded by Chinese-Indonesian entrepreneur Budi Tek. The gallery was closed for ‘facilities management’, with no reopening date set.
The Long Museum, meanwhile, is founded by collectors Liu Yiqian and Wang Wei. They also have a space in Pudong and another one in Chongqing, in southwestern China.
The design of the Long Museum, by Shanghai’s Studio Deshaus, is bold and concrete. The exhibition when I was there, Yu Hong: The World of Saha, curated by Jérome Sans, showed the work of one of China’s most famous contemporary female artists, Yu Hong.
The World of Saha is a Buddhist expression which makes reference to the suffering endured when we are prisoners of our desires, and when we are resistant to difficulty. Everything about the exhibition was monumental, and covered Yu’s life in China over a period of around 30 years. Buddhism is very much present in China… you just have to visit the Jing’An Temple in Shanghai to see that.
The World of Saha closes on 5 May, and on 18 May opens the exhibition Xue Song: Phoenix Art from the Ashes, curated by Jeffrey Spalding. Born in the 1960s, Xue is another famous Chinese artist, and key contributor to Chinese ‘cultural pop’. I am tempted to fly back just to see this.
I also loved the café opposite, Café du Dragon. Yes, the prices are steep, but the coffee is good … and there are plenty of books and good music.
All the world is a stage in Shanghai
Outside the Long Museum, the photographing of the Shanghai fashion scene continued…
M50 – the Brownie Project
Another well-known art district is M50, about 40 minutes by metro northwest of the city centre. This is an old part of town – not that any part of Shanghai is that old. The galleries line small streets with no cars. The scale here is small, whereas in the West Bund it is big.
You have to explore M50 to find spots worth the visit. My favourite was the Brownie Project, where you can find a good coffee, brownies, of course, and art photography… exhibitions, limited edition prints, and Brownie Project books and magazines,
The other place worth a visit in M50 is Island 6, a cooperative that looks at the convergence of art, technology and science… a couple of doors down from the Brownie Project.
Rockbund Art Museum down by The Bund
My last recommendation… the Rockbund Art Museum, or RAM, is near The Peninsula Hotel, one of the city’s top hotels, with its own fleet of Rolls-Royce Phantoms, and views over the former British Consulate and the river Huangpu.
The RAM building is an Art Deco paradise. When I was there, the building had been taken over by German artist Tobias Rehberger with his exhibition If you don’t use your eyes to see, you will use them to cry, which is on till 26 May 2019.
RAM is the perfect place to go before a stroll along the Bund as dusk falls and the city skyscrapers light up along the river Huangpu. That night, I walked back from the Bund to where I was staying near People’s Square. I felt perfectly safe, even though I had my phone in my hand to follow where I was on the map.
I only scratched the surface in Shanghai. For instance, I never went inside the Fosun Foundation, where there was an exhibition of the works of Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama (until 6 September 2019).
The exterior of the building, designed by Foster + Partners and Heatherwick Studio, has a curtain-like facade of bronze tubes. I read that at 10am each day the tubes move in unison, like a theatre curtain. So, I rose early and walked the 40 minutes from People’s Square to the Bund Finance Centre, where the Foundation is located … and it never happened, and the tubes never moved.
With no spectacle, I decided to leave… I was also put off by the number of tour guides in the reception area and by the coffee, which did not look good. So I diverted my route to M50 instead. Good (nearby) coffee and good art go together.
Update June 2019: Consider doing a visit to the Power Station of Art, home to the Shanghai Biennale.