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Appreciating art  by the river

By ZHANG KUN in Shanghai | China Daily USA | Updated: 2018-05-05 02:39
The West Bund area in Xuhui district boasts art spaces, greenland, waterfront views and former industrial sites.  gao erqiang / china daily

The waterfront area in the southern part of Xuhui district, also known as the West Bund, is today more than just a scenic stretch where one can enjoy a leisurely stroll

Home to some of Shanghai's most famous art establishments such as the Yuz Museum and the Long Museum, the West Bund area is now a thriving art community that hosts about a dozen exhibitions at any time.

Located between the Rihui Harbor in the north and Guan Harbor in the south, this 9.4-square-kilometer area used to be an industrial zone where shipyards, factories and a hangar were located. It was only in 2011 that the district authorities decided to develop the western bund region into an arts and cultural center.

"I have witnessed the area's growth myself. When we opened in 2014, it was just us and the Long Museum," said Grace Zhang, deputy director of Yuz Museum, in an exclusive interview with China Daily USA.

In 2015, Pulitzer prize-winning photographer Liu Heung Shing boosted the profile of the area when he opened the Shanghai Center of Photography (SCoP). The ShanghART Gallery, a leading player in the city's contemporary art scene, and MadeIn Company, which is headed by contemporary artist Xu Zhen, were also established in the West Bund that same year. A slew of other galleries and studios have since followed suit.

One of the events that best highlights the area's artistic nature is the West Bund Art and Design fair that has taken place every first week of November since 2014. This year, the fair will take place from Nov 8 to 11.

Last year, 70 galleries, studios and institutions from 17 countries participated in the fair. During the event, artworks and installations are exhibited beyond the confines of the museums and in public spaces all over the West Bund area. A new "talent" section to the fair was introduced last year and it features emerging artists through a series of solo exhibitions or group shows.

Zhang noted that the West Bund has been an important catalyst in the growth of Shanghai's art market. One of the key reasons behind this, she added, is the strong government support in the form of financial subsidies for major exhibitions and events as well as favorable policies for the arts sector.

Culture is one of the four brands, together with services, manufacturing and shopping, that the city will promote to make it more competitive and influential, according to a detailed guideline released last week.

More vitality should be injected into the cultural development of Shanghai, Shanghai Party Secretary Li Qiang said. Prestigious artists and industry leaders should also be gathered in the city so that Shanghai can demonstrate its cultural charm.

The West Bund area is set to grow in stature. Zhang said that more new office buildings, cultural and creative industry hubs and commercial facilities will sprout up in the near future. One of the most notable developments would be the franchise gallery of the famous Pompidou Centre in Paris.

The new museum, which is designed by British architect David Chipperfield, is already under construction. According to the Pompidou Centre, it has signed a renewable five-year deal with the State-owned West Bund Group to stage exhibitions in the new museum starting in 2019.

The Pompidou Centre also said that the deal is "the most important long-term cultural exchange project" between China and France, and that it would "give an important place to contemporary Chinese art" in the new Shanghai facility.

Also located along the waterfront stretch is another art establishment called Tank Space, a compound with five giant oil tanks, a water tank, a wharf and other structures that once served as fuel storage facilities for the Longhua Airport. According to Qiao Zhibing, an avid collector of contemporary art who heads Tank Space, the five tanks will soon be transformed into exhibition spaces and connected to one another by passageways. The water tank had already been used as an art space during a series of exhibitions that took place in September.

Qiu Yun, a spokesperson for Tank Space, said that the new center aims to build a platform that can bring together elements of nature, the city and contemporary art.

"Our target audience is the public. We hope everybody can appreciate art and enjoy it," she said.

Founded by Budi Tek, a Chinese-Indonesian entrepreneur, philanthropist and art collector, the 9,000-square-meter Yuz Museum used to be a hangar that was part of the Longhua Airport. The main gallery covers 3,000 square meters, making it an ideal location for showcasing large installations and interactive projects such as Rain Room in 2015.

Created by Random International, an experimental art studio based in London and Berlin, Rain Room is a space featuring falling water that visitors can walk freely through while remaining dry. While the installation was also exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art New York and  London's Barbican, the version staged in Shanghai was the largest in scale.

After drawing large crowds of visitors to this unique installation three years ago, the artists are now back with their first solo exhibition in Asia titled Everything & Nothing which opened on April 20 and will last till Oct 14 at the Yuz Museum. The ongoing exhibition features new works alongside established pieces created by Random International, which dabbles with new interactive technologies to create experimental experiences.

Earlier this year, the Yuz Museum announced its partnership with the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA). According to Michael Govan, CEO and director of the LACMA, the museum has been active in Asia for many years, establishing itself as a leader in the collection of traditional and contemporary art from Asia. The partnership will help LACMA to extend its reach in Shanghai and introduce contemporary art from Asia, especially China, to wider audiences in the world.

Located two blocks away from the Yuz Museum is the Long Museum which is renowned for its high-profile collection of important artworks from China and abroad, such as a 22-million-yuan ($3.47 million) tea cup from the 14th century and a painting by Amedeo Modigliani that cost $170.4 million.

Founded by Liu Yiqian and his wife Wang Wei in 2012, the Long Museum expanded from its initial location in Pudong to its 40,000-square-meter new facility in the West Bund in 2014. Earlier this year, the museum hosted a large exhibition featuring masterpieces from Dutch portrait artists such as Rembrandt, Johannes Vermeer and Frans Hals.

An ongoing exhibition at the Long Museum West Bund is Dawn Breaking by Yang Fudong, a Shanghai-based artistic photographer and filmmaker. Yang had also shot a movie of the same title in the main exhibition hall of the museum which was transformed into an imperial palace setting featuring giant columns and bronze incense burners.

"It was a great challenge presenting an exhibition such as Dawn Breaking. The museum is honored to have been able to work with the artist in the creation of an irreproducible film as well as an exhibition," said Wang.

During the filming process, visitors were welcomed to walk around in the scene as Yang wanted to integrate the spontaneous movements of the audiences in the movie as well as allow them to feel as if they were traveling back 1,000 years to a moment when the emperor of the Song Dynasty (960-1279) was meeting with high ranking officials in a palace hall.

The exhibition halls on the second floor of the Long Museum are currently showcasing the artist's previous creations, mostly still images from his previous experimental films. One of the most recognized artists in the contemporary art scene, Yang has been featured at important international art events such as the Documenta in Kassel, Germany, the Venice Biennale in Italy and the Biennale de Lyon in France.

zhangkun@chinadaily.com.cn

Long Museum West Bund Shanghai is renowned for its high-profile collection of important artworks from China and abroad, as well as its unique architecture.  photos provided to china daily
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