Shanghai’s fast-developing cultural district has far-reaching ambitions. BRIAN NOONE reports on the latest gem in the Chinese art world
It was artists who first transformed decaying industrial spaces into commodious avant-garde studios. Gallerists followed soon after, and eventually institutions as well, most famously Tate Modern in London, where contemporary art and the endless volumes of the power station comingle in poetic harmony. Now, national governments are getting in on the act, and nowhere more ambitiously than in Asia.
West Kowloon in Hong Kong is the biggest tract under development, measuring some 40 hectares, while Gillman Barracks in Singapore is considerably smaller but already in full swing. The talk of 2017, however, is the West Bund Cultural Corridor in Shanghai, a 15ha site that is finally ready for the global spotlight.
Set a 30-minute drive south from the Bund that most Shanghai visitors see, the district, like Tate Modern, still looks blue-collar on the outside, but behind the façades is “a dynamic art hub…with a large variety of art space including private museums, international galleries and collectors’ spaces,” says Lorraine Malingue, director of Edouard Malingue Gallery (edouardmalingue.com), which opened its 270sq m location in West Bund last year.
“All eyes in the Shanghai art world are currently turning towards West Bund,” concurs Henna Joo, director of the Arario Gallery (arariogallery.com). And Joo is no idle observer: founded in South Korea in 2002, the gallery first opened in Shanghai in 2014 and moved this summer to a sprawling space in West Bund.
Arario is joined in the move by a trio of powerhouse Shanghai galleries that have recently chosen West Bund: Aike Dellarco (aikedellarco.com), MadeIn (madeingallery. com) and ShanghArt (shanghartgallery. com), which celebrated its 20th anniversary last year with a purpose-built gallery that resembles a collage of shipping containers in the heart of the district.
West Bund first gained international attention in 2014, when the Yuz Museum (yuzmshanghai.org) opened across 3,000sq m in a former airport hangar as a showcase for contemporary art, and the Long Museum (thelongmuseum.org), known for its East-meets-West ethos, debuted its sleek space. The year was also the inaugural edition of West Bund Art & Design (westbundshanghai.com), which remains the smallest major art fair on the global calendar. Last year it hosted just 31 galleries, but the list of headliners matches any other global fair: Hauser & Wirth, David Zwirner, Emmanuel Perrotin, Blain Southern, Pace and more. Gallerist Ben Brown, who has spaces in London and Hong Kong, has shown at the fair the previous two years, and as he prepares to return this year, he notes that the clientele, primarily Chinese, “is relatively adventurous and open to emerging artists”.
Karen Smith, artistic director of the Shanghai Center of Photography (scop.org. cn), is finding a similar trend, as the area attracts an increasingly cosmopolitan mix of visitors, “Attitudes have begun to change fast, and have already changed greatly within the last five years. Recent exhibitions like our current solo presentation Muse of the Guangzhou-based Zhang Haier resonate as much with an international audience as with our local visitors.”
But the biggest changes are yet to come: Tank Shanghai (qiaocollection. com), a gargantuan art space from local collector Qiao Zhibing set amid former oil tanks is set to open next year, and the David Chipperfield-designed West Bund Art Museum will open the following year with a branch of the Centre Pompidou (centrepompidou.fr) the French museum’s first foray in Asia.
With recent capital controls instituted by the national government that are expected to keep a lot of yuan on the mainland, this once forlorn district is ready to join its international counterparts in the limelight.
Centurion, Q4, 2017