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.
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.”
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.
“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.
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.”
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.
Header photo: "Suspended Gravity," multimedia installation by Taiwanese-Canadian and Dutch artists Ed PIen and Karin Van Dam © OV Gallery
What do you think of Shanghai's contemporary art scene? Have you visited any of these galleries in Shanghai? Share your thoughts below.
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About the author: HelenElferHelen Elfer
Helen Elfer has been a travel journalist for seven years, living in Shanghai and Abu Dhabi before recently moving back to London. You can read about her experiences meeting Uighur rock stars, climbing coconut trees in Kerala, dabbling in the dark arts in England and more at www.helenelfer.com. Her work has appeared in the Guardian, Conde Nast Traveller and Time Out among other publications. Follow her on twitter @helen_elfer