Shanghai art scene articleJun 8th, 2010 | By Chris | Category: Published work, Random Shanghai stuff...
I was asked to write an introduction to Shanghai’s art scene, for Yishu Journal. It was published in their annual guide.
Shanghai’s Destiny on the Make
By Chris Gill
Shanghai is a city on the make, combined with the city’s international outlook, and the very optimistic Shanghainese view of its future, there is a strong sense of destiny prevalent in the air that the city is rising to reclaim its place as one of the world’s centers of arts and culture. Contrasting strongly with the last couple of decades of slow but steady progress in the arts, there is a sudden burst of activity surrounding the World Expo (May – October 2010), with big name artists and huge projects parachuting in, which in some ways contradict what Shanghai’s art scene has always been about–quietly developing in dark and musty corners of the city, away from the attention and more commercial minded art scenes found in other cities. This is a city where it is better to avoid the large majestic and monumental style works more popular in Beijing, as the practical minded Shanghainese mentality will critique such works to their doom.
Shanghai is a city with less than a 100 years of any real history, so it does not carry the burden of thousands of years of culture that wearies the arts in many other parts of China. Under the auspices of the estimated USD 45 billion budget for World Expo developments, Shanghai continues to reinvent itself while its art scene is polarized between official building projects, many semi-private initiatives, and a local scene that is likely to go more underground.
Local underground scene
Shanghai’s small group of artists, relative to Beijing, tend to the experimental, quirky, and offbeat, often challenged on finances and space. With the attendant Expo hooplah, the local arts scene is likely to go more underground, focusing on small galleries and pop-up spaces. The same crowd may not gather together twice in one place, moving according to very obscure whims as it chases the latest thing across the city. Local ad-hoc spaces appear in numbers in downtown Shanghai, two recent additions being ‘The Nut’ and ‘Neon’ which host creative art evenings and pop-up shows. The art districts of 50 Moganshan Road and Weihai Road 696 also are surrounded by development of new galleries and creative spaces.
Private museums and cultural spaces
In anticipation of the Expo’s estimated 100 million visitors, numerous semi-private developments have opened, including several museums and related creative spaces. Leading the swathe of new cultural initiatives is the new Shanghai Rockbund Art Museum, housed in a 1932 art deco building on Shanghai’s iconic riverfront, originally designed by the architect David Chipperfield. The museum is a part of an ongoing six block development managed by the Rockefeller Group. The inaugural exhibition “Cai Guoqiang: Peasant Da Vincis” opened on May 4 in its modest 900 sqm exhibition space. Two years after its soft opening, the Minsheng Art Museum in the Red Town art zone on Huaihai Road, launched an ambitious display of “Three Decades of Contemporary Chinese Art: Painting (1979-2009)” in late April 2010. Only a portion of the 100 works displayed hailed from the recognized Minsheng Bank corporate collection while most other works were on private loan.
The Shanghai government issued a policy to ‘bundle’ cultural activities, away from the ‘urban core’ but easily accessible by Shanghai’s new extensive subway network. The USD 15 million cultural center development in the once remote Minhang district is publicized as a prime example of success, with local papers saying it can be reached via subway in an overly optimistic 7 minutes. In the Pudong district, home to the main World Expo site, the Zendai Himalaya Museum opened a 3000sqm ‘art supermarket’ selling low priced art works. The museum reported that ‘80%’ of works sold in the RMB 5000 category, with initial revenues reaching RMB 570,000 on its opening day in late November 2009. Other openings include a Chinese hometown folk museum, a brick and tile museum, a world coin museum, a water museum, and numerous other “cultural sub-centers” developed by Shanghai’s suburban governments.