Beijing has long been the centre of China’s vibrant contemporary art scene, but with a host of new galleries and institutions sprouting up in Shanghai, things may be changing.
In recent decades, the city developed its own network of artists, spaces and events with a more experimental flavour due to its greater exchange with the worlds of fashion, design and digital media than the Chinese capital. Now several high-profile institutions have set up shop, including a few that haven’t completely opened yet, such as mega-collector Qiao Zhibing’s Tank Project, and the Foster+Partners-designed Fosun Foundation. Even China’s leading bilingual art magazine LEAP (艺术界) relocated its offices from Beijing to Shanghai this year.
From the landmark arts district of M50, to hidden galleries in the French Concession, to new developments on the West Bund, we’ve rounded up a few key spots to witness Shanghai’s current cultural evolution.
Antenna Space, in the arts district of M50 (or 50 Moganshan Lu, a former industrial area on the banks of Suzhou Creek), was a breath of fresh air for the arts cluster when it was founded in 2013. The brainchild of seasoned dealer and advisor Simon Wang, Antenna’s program presents local and international artists with a flair for the punk, provocative and performative – such as the vivid sculptures of Guan Xiao, the film installations of Wu Tsang, and the subtly erotic paintings of Cheng Xinyi.
Room 202, Building 17, 50 Moganshan Rd antenna-space.com
Chronus Art Center
Chronus is China’s first non-profit organisation and gallery dedicated exclusively to new media art. Established in 2013, the 1000-square-metre space not only presents exhibitions, but also funds research and residencies, and hosts lectures, workshops and international exchanges (they’ve co-created programs with the legendary ZKM Kalsruhe, and brought works by stars like Nam June Paik and Carsten Nicolai). Expect to see installations and performances experimenting with cutting-edge technology like AI, VR and wearables.
Bldg 18, NO.50 Moganshan Rd chronusartcenter.org
Leo Xu Projects
Curator, writer, and gallerist Leo Xu cut his teeth at other blue chip galleries like Chambers Fine Art and James Cohan before opening his eponymous Shanghai space in 2011. Tucked away down a lane in the former French Concession, Leo Xu Projects showcases a younger generation of high-concept artists like aaajiao (the “virtual persona” of the Shanghai-based Xu Wenkai) and moving image provocateur Cheng Ran. It also serves as a portal for international exchange, having previously done collaborations with galleries like Los Angeles’ David Kordansky and presenting the works of artists like Apichatpong Weerasethakul and Wolfgang Tillmans to the Shanghai audience for the first time.
Lane 49, Building 3, Fuxing Xi Road leoxuprojects.com
Capsule is located on the ground floor of a traditional Shanghai lane house, complete with a secret garden. This idyllic setting feels apt for the gallery’s program, which features emerging artists who often work in minimalist or dreamlike modes. They recently staged the first solo show in China of Los Angeles artist Alice Wang, who filled the white walled rooms with a column of slowly-melting wax and other enigmatic totems.
1st Floor, Building 16, Anfu Lu 275 Nong capsuleshanghai.com
Founded in 1996 by Swiss gallerist Lorenz Helbling, the respected ShanghART helped put Shanghai art on the map and was a pioneering space in the M50 district. It now has two Shanghai locations, as well as outposts in Beijing and Singapore, and is still a key place to see ambitious exhibitions by some of China’s biggest names like Yang Fudong, Xu Zhen and Zhou Tiehai.
Bank is both a commercial gallery and the home base for the curatorial and creative collective, MAB Society. This hybrid space was founded by American curator, critic and artist Mathieu Borysevicz in 2013, first in a stunning time capsule of an Art Deco building on Shanghai’s Bund, but later moved to a semi-hidden underground space at the heart of the French Concession. They’ve championed emerging artists who’ve gone on to become huge stars like Chen Tianzhuo, and have brought in international figures like Patty Chang and Hito Steyerl for major China projects.
Bldg 2, 298 Anfu Lu mabsociety.com
Edouard Malingue Shanghai
Established in Hong Kong in 2010, Edouard Malingue quickly gained a reputation for spotting edgy young talent from around the region. This continues in their Shanghai space, opened in 2016 in the West Bund Art & Design district with a sleek design by BEAU Architects, which presents work by pan-Chinese artists like trippy Chongqing painter Cui Xinming, Taiwanese conceptualist Chou Yu-Cheng and Hong Kong’s image interventionist Ko Sin Tung.
Room 2202, 2879 Longteng Avenue, near Fenggu Lu edouardmalingue.com
Recent years have seen countless art collectors opening private museums across China, but few have gained as much buzz as the Yuz Museum. Situated in the West Bund area, the Yuz was founded in 2014 by Chinese-Indonesian entrepreneur, philanthropist and collector Budi Tek, and to date has presented exhibitions of Tek’s collection (featuring names like Ai Weiwei, Maurizio Catellan, and Anselm Kiefer), as well as blockbuster shows of KAWS and Random International’s Rain Room.
35 Fenggu Road yuzmshanghai.org
Located right next to Shanghai’s Bund (a grand boulevard along the Huangpu River), the Rockbund Museum is worth a visit not only for its programs, but also for its architecture. Set in a 1923 Art Deco building that was once the Royal Asiatic Society, the Rockbund was renovated before its 2010 opening, but has kept a remarkably faithful design. The museum has no permanent collection, instead featuring highly-curated exhibitions by the likes of China’s Cai Guoqiang and Zhang Huan, as well as international artists Bharti Kher and Philippe Parreno. They also initiated the Hugo Boss Asia Art Prize recognising emerging talent across the region.
20 Huqiu Rd, rockbundartmuseum.org
chi K11 (inside K11 Mall)
Some may doubt that a shopping mall is a good place to view art, but chi K11 proves them wrong. The art centre is in the basement level of the K11 mall, and is an outgrowth of the K11 Art Foundation (headed by Hong Kong mall founder, collector and philanthropist Adrian Cheng). They regularly collaborate with heavy-hitters like the Palais du Tokyo, the Serpentine Gallery and the New Museum. The space presents emerging local artists (especially those with a digital bent, like Lin Ke and Miao Ying), as well as international names like Simon Denny. (Bonus levels: wander through the upper floors of the mall to find selected pieces from KAF’s collection, including Damien Hirst and Hong Kong photographer Shirley Tse).
B3/F, 300 Huaihai Zhong Lu k11artfoundation.org