Shanghai is flourishing with contemporary art galleries and museums, a major part of its evolving culture and urban environment. Here are Culture Trip’s favourite places in Shanghai that entertain, illuminate and provoke through the power of art.
The non-profit Yuz Museum aims to take visitors on a journey around the world through its exhibitions from international artists. That same path led the private museum’s founder, Budi Tek – a Chinese-Indonesian entrepreneur, collector and art philanthropist – to discover his passion for serious collecting. This West Bund destination was formerly an airport hangar, and today, it’s an airy space that has hosted standout exhibitions like the Rain Room, a large-scale ecosystem of falling water. Tip: Visit the Yuz Café for a cappuccino or light lunch.
Although it’s not one of Shanghai’s best-known venues, the Ming Contemporary Art Museum (better known as McaM) ignites the imagination with its interactive activities rooted in visual performance – whether that means sound, sculpture, experimental theatre, dance or poetry. Push your brain’s boundaries at this private museum, which has been transformed from its days as the Shanghai Paper Machine Factory into a two-level tour de force. People are welcome to interact with and add to the exhibitions, contributing to the creative process themselves. Tip: Look out for academic talks and lectures by renowned artists and authors.
There’s a delightful tension of old and new at the Long Museum West Bund, a sleek space born from a crumbling coal-hopper bridge dating back to the 1950s. The four-storey umbrella-vaulted structure that houses this private museum is an architectural showpiece in itself, serving as a go-to backdrop for local photographers. Inside the 16,000-square-metre (172,222-square-foot) space is a globe-trotting showcase of temporary exhibitions. Past highlights have included Louise Bourgeois’s monstrous spider sculptures, along with pieces by contemporary Asian artists. Tip: The museum offers free admission on the first Tuesday of every month.
Contemporary art commingles with architecture in this four-storey 1932 Art Deco building on the Bund, happily away from the tourist crowds. The Rockbund Art Museum (RAM) is a great place to see temporary art exhibitions and partake in fashion and business programmes; many have the goal of elevating the Chinese and international contemporary art scene in Shanghai. The venue also plays a central role in co-creating projects with new and established artists and curators, marrying disciplines such as architecture, dance and design. Tip: Participate in walks, talks and tours led by staff and guests.
When you’ve spotted the 165-metre (541-foot) chimney with a working thermostat beaming the temperature across the Huangpu River skyline, you’ve found the Power Station of Art (PSA). Formerly known as Nanshi Power Plant in the mid-1980s, this West Bund behemoth was given new life in 2012 as the first state-run museum in mainland China to focus on contemporary art. This bulky, 42,000sq m (452,084sq ft) riverfront building is home to the famous Shanghai Biennale. Tip: Some exhibitions (usually on the ground floor) are free.
Lush green spaces aren’t exactly in short supply in Shanghai, considering the need to balance the great swathes of steel and concrete that dominate this megacity. Jing’an Sculpture Park brings together both natural and designed worlds with its permanent and ever-evolving installations. The pieces range from compact to colossal, set among tree-lined walkways, flower gardens and rolling lawns. In spring, see showy tulips pop up under Wim Delvoye’s red pergola that mimics a bird’s nest. If you sit still long enough on one of the park’s benches, you might spot some frogs soaking up the Shanghai sun. Tip: Sip a cappuccino on the terrace at the café.
To fully immerse yourself in Shanghai’s community of contemporary artists, head to the M50 art complex (named for its address at 50 Moganshan Road) near the banks of Suzhou Creek. A warren of studios, galleries, cafés and boutiques have emerged in the Chunming Slub Mill’s defunct warehouses, where textiles were once the industry of the day. That gritty edge remains, with graffiti adding colour to the battered buildings. Watch artists paint or weave bamboo into modern light fixtures, ponder the purpose of confounding art installations and buy handmade Shanghai crafts (think leather bags and ceramic jewellery) to bring home. Tip: Island6 Art Collective is a must-see venue with amazing LED art.