Join the ranks of culture aficionados around the world and add Shanghai to your list of must-visit contemporary art destinations.
In the last few years, an impressive number of museums and galleries have sprung up as part of a national plan to promote Chinese culture in the global marketplace. Shanghai is well on its way to becoming the newest cultural hot spot, aiming to give major art cities around the world a serious run for their money. We profile Shanghai’s ten best contemporary art galleries.
One of Shanghai’s pioneering contemporary exhibition spaces, ShanghART Gallery emerged onto the scene in 1996. Ten years later, the gallery has transformed into one of the leading visual art institutions in China, with three spaces across Shanghai, a location in Beijing, and a new gallery in Singapore, all of which represent over 40 participating artists. As one of Shanghai’s veteran contemporary art spaces, ShanghART was vital in placing China on the map at major international art fairs; in 2000, the gallery was the first Chinese space to be invited to show at Art Basel, which landed ShanghART a spot in Thames & Hudson’s ranking of the world’s 75 most influential galleries in International Art Galleries: Post-War to Post-Millennium (2005).Today, the gallery continues its mission to promote up-and-coming artists.
M97 is a tour de force exhibition space in Shanghai’s booming contemporary art scene. Established in 2006, M97 was one of the first photography galleries in China – it stands as one of the largest of its kind in Shanghai to date– and relocated in 2016 to Shanghai’s Jingan District into a converted 1940’s factory complex. Dealing in contemporary and fine art photography, M97 showcases the work of both emerging and established Chinese-born and associated photographers who have captured visually-arresting moments in Chinese life. Dedicated to forging a local and international appreciation for Chinese photography, M97 proudly boasts works from over 30 different Chinese and international artists as one of the city’s largest sources for this ever-popular medium.
The first state-run contemporary art museum in mainland China, the Power Station of Art launched in October 2012. Housed in a previously abandoned power plant on the banks of the Huangpu River, this same space was once the site of the Pavilion of the Future in the 2010 Shanghai World Expo. Now home to the Shanghai Biennale, the Power Station of Art is indeed an art powerhouse, generating Shanghai’s future in the contemporary art world. With a huge neon thermometer atop the building’s smokestack, the space itself has transformed Shanghai’s skyline. Though the space is located outside of Shanghai proper, it remains a must-visit for its excellent programs, seven floors of art, and free entry (excluding special exhibitions).
Having reopened in 2010 after a long period of renovation, the RAM has since flourished as Bund’s only contemporary art museum. World-class exhibitions are presented within a stunning art deco building that once served as the Royal Asiatic Society and later the Shanghai Museum. The space was thoughtfully restored by British architect David Chipperfield to feature one central atrium that unites and illuminates the building’s five floors. RAM has presented innovative exhibitions of some of China’s leading contemporary artists, from Zeng Fanzhi to Cai Guo-Qiang. With a broad-spectrum focus on groundbreaking exhibitions, education, and outreach, RAM aims to spark conversation and raise awareness of social issues through the various mediums of visual art.
Located in Shanghai’s quirky former French Concession area, ART LABOR Gallery aims to showcase the best contemporary talents through the presentation of unique exhibitions from a range of international artists. This self-funded gallery boasts a transparent mission to support and encourage the up-and-coming artists that they represent, and to promote Shanghai as a force to be reckoned with in the international art scene. The gallery itself is a sight to behold; designed by Canadian architect Israel Noel, the space features movable walls and lighting installations.
MoCA is a veritable greenhouse of contemporary art. A relatively small exhibition space situated in the picturesque setting of the People’s Park (the cultural heart of Shanghai), the Museum of Contemporary Art was founded in 2005 by the Samuel Kung Foundation as the first independent non-profit contemporary art gallery in the city. Inspired by China’s determination to situate itself in the global contemporary art market, MoCA aims to influence the cultural dialogue between Chinese and international art and design. MoCA’s exhibitions are diverse in mixed media, spotlighting new and established contemporary artists alongside the presentation of design retrospectives profiling Salvatore Ferragamo, Chanel, and Pixar, to name a few. The gallery hosts its own biennale, MoCA Envisage, which examines and addresses the reality and direction of Chinese contemporary art. In addition, this exhibition space boasts a stunning vista from its rooftop patio and bar.
The Shanghai Gallery of Art is a chic private gallery located in the city’s historic Three on the Bund complex. Designed by acclaimed architect Michael Graves, SGA is a bright, industrial 1000-square-meter space with high ceilings and concrete walls to complement the pure luxury of the surrounding Bund area. Established in 2004, SGA mainly focuses on the exhibition of works by iconic Asian contemporary artists, including Zhang Xiaogang and Gu Dexin. Well known for its quality programming and experimental interdisciplinary exhibitions, SGA also hosts prominent international artists such as Anish Kapoor.
The OV Gallery is Shanghai’s very own enfant terrible, having had two artworks censored and a whole exhibition (2010’s RE-Visioning History) shut down by the local culture bureau for its critique of the Chinese Communist Party. Since OV Gallery opened in 2008 under the direction of former magazine editor Rebecca Catching, OV Gallery refuses to shy away from pushing boundaries and addressing provocative social issues. The gallery places a strong emphasis on emerging Chinese artists, showcasing them through strong and eclectic thematic group shows. This strategy aims to reach a wider audience through thoughtful programming, artist workshops, tours, and talks.
Established in 2011, LEO XU Projects is housed in a three-story building in the French Concession. Founded by curator, photographer, and writer Leo Xu (who now serves as Director), the gallery represents a selection of young Chinese and international artists, and places particular emphasis on the exhibition of works depicting the experiences of displaced Chinese citizens. LEO XU Projects has participated in major art events such as Art Basel, Frieze New York, and the Venice Biennale. What makes LEO XU Projects particularly outstanding is its outreach; extensive offsite work includes participation in Shanghai Surprise at the K11 Art Mall – a group exhibition inspired by the changing cultural landscape of the city, featuring young Chinese and expat authors.
Founded in the Red Town Arts Precinct in 2008, the Minsheng Art Museum boasts a strikingly futuristic exterior, converted from an old steel factory. The exhibition space is comprised of one central exhibition hall and four smaller spaces. The building additionally serves as a community center with a workshop, café, bookshop, reading room, courtyard, and offices. The museum curates experimental shows, and proudly champions Shanghai-based artists