Aerial view of Shanghai’s Pudong district, east of the Huangpu River. Photo by Paul Reiffer.


Also available in:  Chinese  Arabic

The city of Shanghai—a center for economic activity, technological innovation, finance, conventions and logistics—boasts China’s highest GDP and a population exceeding 25 million. The metropolis is also a hub of art and culture, having played host to the 2010 World Expo, and regularly holds major international events such as the China Shanghai International Arts Festival, Shanghai International Film Festival and the Shanghai Biennale. The development of its arts industry has been a natural progression, given Shanghai’s esteemed position in China’s cultural history since the early 1900s: the country’s first art academy, art magazine and national art exhibition were all established in this very city.

The upsurge in museums and art fairs in Shanghai has been a much-discussed cultural phenomenon in recent years—even attracting worldwide attention. New institutions of art and visual culture have been emerging within the city at an overwhelming pace.
Apart from the reputable Shanghai Museum, there is the Shanghai Art Museum, which in 2012 assumed the building of the China Pavilion constructed for the World Expo and was renamed the China Art Museum. The Power Station of Art was also inaugurated in the same year. The three public structures are dedicated to Chinese art from the classical, modern and contemporary periods, respectively. A number of private museums have also sprung up, including the Shanghai Museum of Contemporary Art; the Minsheng museums (Minsheng Art Museum and the 21st Century Minsheng Art Museum); the two Long Museums (located in the Puxi and Pudong districts, respectively), the Rockbund Art Museum; the Shanghai Himalayas Museum; the Yuz Museum Shanghai; and the Aurora Museum (an institution that primarily collects antiquities, but is expanding to incorporate more contemporary works).

Also a popular site for art fairs, Shanghai has seen the Shanghai Art Fair, West Bund Art & Design, Art 021, Photo Shanghai, Citizen Art Shanghai and the now-defunct SH Contemporary, among others. At this point, there are more annual art fairs taking place in Shanghai than in Beijing, long considered the artistic center of China, and as reports seem to indicate, the former’s events have been garnering higher sales figures than those of the latter.

Other comparisons can be made between the nation’s two main art hubs, Shanghai and Beijing, that shed some light on their relative standing (and very often, different roles) within the international art world. Members of the Shanghai community, however, might argue against the comparison, their rhetoric revealing higher ambitions of competing with international metropolises such as New York, Paris or London.

In terms of a gallery scene, Shanghai welcomed its first spaces in the early 1990s. Among these, ShanghArt has enjoyed undisputed success and steady growth, today representing many of the most important figures in the local contemporary art community, such as Zhang Enli, Yang Fudong, Xu Zhen and Ding Yi. Other important Chinese artists residing in Shanghai include Li Shan, Yu Youhan, Liu Jianhua, Qiu Anxiong and Liu Dahong. Younger galleries and spaces active in recent years are Leo Xu Projects, Antenna Space, Shanghai Gallery of Art, Shanghai chi K11 Art Space, Pearl Lam Galleries, Hakgojae Gallery (from Seoul), Yibo Gallery, Hwa’s Gallery, OFOTO Gallery and M97 Gallery. Together with artist studios, these galleries are clustered in the major art districts in the city, the best known of which are M50 and Red Town.

Though the city’s art ecosystem is blessed with developed infrastructure, it isn’t without problems. Government policies remain flawed, causing construction and development delays for many institutional buildings and art projects. Such bureaucratic and administrative challenges are likely to be one of the main reasons that leading international galleries, such as Gagosian, Pace and White Cube, chose to open their first Asian branch elsewhere on the continent. Art organizations in China generally don’t pay very well, and thus fail to attract candidates and professionals of high caliber. Similarly, Chinese platforms and institutions don’t seem to fully understand, or appreciate, the importance of critics and curators—another factor contributing to the dearth of significant players taking part in the local art scene. In terms of number, variety and scale, art-focused media in Beijing are still ahead of those based in Shanghai. Top Chinese auction houses, such as Poly and China Guardian, have also kept their headquarters in the capital. Furthermore, given Shanghai’s total population, the attendance rate at large-scale art events is generally still dissatisfactory—a testament to the improvement needed in promoting art-related activities within Shanghai and also in raising the overall level of cultural appreciation among its citizenry. 

Translated by Denise Chu.