Wednesday, October 18, 2006
The so called SoHo of Shanghai, 50 Moganshan Road art district is the center of contemporary art in Shanghai. Tucked away off the banks of Suzhou Creek, M50 has attracted over 100 artists in residence to set up shop in this art commune. Once home to factories and industrial workshops, these galleries have transformed the space into a trendy art zone home to some of Shanghai’s hottest contemporary artists.
Situated next to a typical Chinese apartment building, complete with food vendors and drying laundry outside of every window, 50 Moganshan seems to be an unlikely spot to showcase some of the most famous artists in China. M50 is actually owned by a state-operated textile group called Shangtex. Shangtex has high aspirations for the space, and hopes to further develop the area into an art zone. Zhou Bin of Shangtex explains that, “We don't see ourselves merely as the landlord of M50, we want to shape its future,” (http://www.chinaartnetworks.com/feature/wen21.shtml). One problem remains that as the popularity of M50 raises, so does the rent. New artists moving into the zone are charged high rent rates, which can cause hardship because many up and coming artists don’t sell pieces immediately.
However, ShanghArt, one of M50’s most established galleries has had no such hardship in finding buyers for its famous and often pricey art work. Famous in the Shanghai art scene, I was less impressed with the space than I would have expected. The main gallery was almost completely unrenovated and totally cluttered with a mishmash of different works. There didn’t seem to be a flow of any sort, and appeared to be more of a cluttered garage then an actual gallery. For me, the lack of organization and distaste for the space, took away from the pleasure of viewing the artwork itself. However, despite my aversion for the main area, I was very impressed with the viewing room for the individual artist showcase. The lightening was appropriate, and the room had a clean, professional feel, which I think is very important in displaying this kind of art. Not only does it add to the credibility of the gallery, but also to that of the artist.
Another notable gallery we visited was EastLink. The Eastlink gallery is hidden on the 5th floor of a factory building, behind the loud creaky doors of an archaic Chinese elevator. Eastlink was spacious, with wooden floors and several side rooms, and is supposedly one of the most sought after gallery space in the area. The director there was kind enough to give us a tour, and gave us some great insight into the individual pieces. We had an interesting discussion about the performance art piece by He Yunchang called Dialogue with Water (1999), where the artists suspends himself over a river, and uses a knife to “cut” the river, and thus inflict a wound through the “heart” of China. Even though I am usually skeptical about the true value of this type of performance art, it was interesting to hear more detail about the intentions of the artist and the statement he intended to make.
M50 is a great place to visit and explore the galleries and boutiques. The New York Times travel section recently featured M50 as one of the best places to visit in Shanghai. Click on the following link to check it out: New York Times Travel.