10 Places to Appreciate Art When You Study Abroad in Shanghai

Oct 1, 2013 9:50:23 AM / by Stephanie Sadler

Poke your nose around any global city. Art is everywhere from formal galleries to outdoor sculptures to impromptu performances to street art and murals. Here, we've chosen 10 of our favorite places to appreciate art when you study abroad in Shanghai with CAPA International Education.

1. THE CHINA ART PALACE, SHANGHAI. Shanghai is a relatively new city in the long history of China, especially the side known as Shanghai Pudong which was wasteland till 1990. Not surprisingly, this side focuses on modern art and you cannot get more contemporary than the China Art Palace developed in 2012 from the China Pavilion that was built for the 2010 World Expo. Tickets are free to all galleries except the one showcasing the features from the Expo. However, one has to book online in advance and collect the ticket from special outlets downtown before heading to Pudong. They are expecting it to be busy with many galleries and rotating exhibitions of foreign modern art. There's enough to keep a visitor occupied for five or six hours. It is not a quick, drop-by type of gallery. (see connection in 4 below)

Shanghai Art Museum 中华艺术宫 (China Pavilion at Expo 2010 中国国家馆)
Photo: Shanghai Art Palace by Kwong Yee Cheng

2. THE SHANGHAI MUSEUM. This one is also free and no advance booking is required. Just be prepared for a long line during busy periods. The Shanghai Museum is located in People's Park (behind People's Square) in historic Shanghai Puxi, so it forms quite a contrast to the China Art Palace. It is a museum of Ancient Chinese Art with eleven galleries and three exhibition halls. Although it was opened in 1952, this was in a different location in Shanghai and it did not come to its present site till 1996. It is located in a building designed in the shape of an ancient bronze cooking vessel called a "ding". The overall appearance is of a round building set on a square which symbolizes the traditional Chinese belief that the world is a square earth in a round sky. Again it takes time to do justice to the extensive collections.

Photo: CAPA students outside of the Shanghai Museum by Colin Speakman

3. SHANGHAI MUSEUM OF CONTEMPORARY ART. Known as MOCA, this more compact museum is also in People's Park and opened in 2005 in a distinctive glass building. It is the first independently owned, non-profit contemporary art museum in Shanghai. It just re-opened mid-September 2013 after temporary closure while completing work to house the Esprit Dior Exhibition for two months. The museum is honoring Christian Dior, the designer, with a display of over 100 dresses alongside artistic works by local Chinese artists. Indeed ongoing galleries are dedicated to promoting awareness of fledgling and better known Chinese talents in the art field, in parallel with many temporary exhibitions, so it is important to check what is planned and if MOCA is closed between exhibitions. There is an entrance fee, at the time of writing of 20 rmb, but there is less likely to be a long line to get in. If short on time, this is a manageable museum to visit.

Museum of Contemporary Art - Shanghai
Photo: MOCA, Shanghai by Carlos Mejía Greene

4. THE SHANGHAI ART MUSEUM. We include this to avoid confusion. The building is located in People's Square and was the original home of the Shanghai Biennale (the highest profile contemporary art event in Shanghai - see point 5 below). The museum was housed in a magnificent building from 1933 - the Shanghai Race Club (clubhouse) building. It was renovated as an Art Museum in 1955 and its clock tower is one of the most prominent in the city. However, in October 2012 this museum was renamed the China Art Museum and the contents moved to the China Pavilion (in point 1 above). Thus the architectural attraction of this building remains and it is sure to have a future life in another role with the art of Shanghai but at the time of writing it is awaiting such a role. It's worth looking at, worth a photo, but what will be inside in the future? We await excitedly.

Shanghai Art Musem
Photo: Shanghai Art Museum by Chenli LU

5. THE SHANGHAI BIENNALE. This is one of the most important cultural events in Shanghai, dating from 1996. It is the most established art biennale in China. A biennale is an Italian word for an event that happens every two years and has become short hand in the art world for large scale art exhibition attracting international exhibitors and visitors. The original biennale was established in Venice, Italy in 1885. The next Shanghai Biennale is in 2014 starting usually around the October National holidays. The last one in 2012 was held for the first time mainly at the new Power Station of Art (see point 6 below). It ran for six months from October 2012 to end of March 2013. It attracted city art pavilions from Amsterdam, through Berlin, Istanbul, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Sydney to Vancouver (and more). If a visitor to Shanghai can time things to overlap with such an event, it is highly recommended to go along.

Photo: Shanghai Biennale by 湿 老

6. THE POWER STATION OF ART. This is another newbie, which opened in 2012 in a former power station overlooking the Huangpu River that divides Shanghai between Puxi and Pudong. It is a huge state-run, contemporary art museum which is free to enter most of the time without prior booking, though requirements may be different on public holidays if high demand is expected. Still getting established, with the Shanghai Biennale a great way to kick it off, it is intended to house top quality touring art exhibitions from many parts of the world. Thus again it is important to see what is scheduled and if there are any pre-exhibition closures for setup. Whereas the new China Art Palace had two ready made collections, from the Shanghai Expo and the Shanghai Art Museum, the Power Station of Art needs to fill some voids after the Biennale ended earlier this year. It is hard to replicate that level of international exhibitions in short order so we need to watch this space.

power station of art, shanghai
Photo: Power Station of Art, Shanghai by Scott Zhang

7. SHANGHART AND H SPACE GALLERY. Established in 1996, well before the recent burst of alternatives, this was one of the first contemporary art galleries in Shanghai and is now considered to have become one of the most important for showcasing up and coming artists as well as some famous Chinese artists. What is on show changes every one to two months. The galleries represent over 30 artists in areas from painting to sculpture and video to performance. There is a new ShanghaiART building on the Huahai Lu. The main gallery and the related H space gallery are located in Moganshan Lu, in Puto District in Puxi. (see also point 8 below)

H Space Gallery at M50, Shanghai
Photo: H Space Gallery by William

8. THE MOGANSHAN ART DISTRICT. This is an area well-known for art and also by the handle M50. It is home to over 100 artists' studios and is often compared to New York's SoHo District. It is in an old industrial area along Suzhou Creek. It developed as an art colony from 2000 when its low rents were an attraction. Nowadays alongside the studios are design companies and culture related businesses and it is certainly on the top ten list of general places to visit for tourists in Shanghai. Island6, Biz Art, Pantocrator Gallery, the specialist M97photography only gallery and the smaller Eastlink gallery can all be found be found there. The land and buildings are still owned by Shangtex, the State enterprise that owned the defunct textile factories.

Shanghai Sights
Photo: The Moganshan Art District in Shanghai by Lim Ashley

9. FORMER FRENCH CONCESSION GALLERIES. There is a group of galleries in this fashionable area of Sycamore-lined streets and alleys which was once French administered. These include Art Labor, which is quite large and showcases a number of local and foreign artists as well as the James Cohan Gallery playing a similar role. A distinctive feature of the latter is that it is housed on the first floor of a former villa where visitors can enjoy the surrounding garden as well as the gallery. While in this area, one can also visit the smaller Lei Xu Projects gallery where Mr Xu himself is the curator.

Somewhere in Taikang Road Art Centre
Photo: Alleyways with art galleries in the French concession area by Peter Garnhum

10. TIANZIFANG ART DISTRICT. This is last on the list, but actually one of the best for a mix of art and eating. It is a famous enclave of arts and crafts in a renovated area of the Former French Concession also known as the Taikang Lu which brings together art galleries, photography galleries, souvenir and crafts shops, cafes (we recommend The Kommune) and Chinese but mainly foreign restaurants (Indian and Thai are good examples along with Chicago Pizza). It is a very relaxing way to spend a day and is reminiscent of a more compact scale of Beijing's 798 Art District. It features narrow alleyways and well preserved traditional Shanghai Shikumen two story houses and the district transformed into a home for art from 2007.

TianZiFang art district in Shanghai
Photo: Tianzifang Art District in Shanghai by Joanne Wan

Have you been to Shanghai? Leave us a comment and let us know your favorite places to appreciate art in this global city.

Topics: Shanghai, China