The metropolis of Shanghai is one of the world's most densely populated areas. In the beginning, Beijing - being the capital - was more interesting in terms of the international market for contemporary Chinese art. Shanghai is in reality no less modern, lively or dynamic. In fact, art galleries have established themselves, above all, in Shanghai and focus especially on the development of art in China and not Western art.
This has drawn several artists to setup their studios in Shanghai in collaboration with gallery owners - both international and domestic, creating several lively art "miles". Last, but not least, "ShContemporary" held its first contemporary art fair in September 2007, providing Shanghai with exchanges with and connections to the world elite of international art markets.
Shanghai's interest in contemporary Chinese art is not so new, like it is in the West. At least five museums and increasingly more have for years set themselves up as contemporary Chinese art museums. Most notable is the Shanghai Art Museum on Nanjing Road, which has also hosted the Shanghai Biannual since 1996.
Another art festival, the "Satellite" Biannual, takes place in small industrial buildings in the middle of a lush garden. There, artists from Australia and New Zealand have also joined their Chinese counterparts.
Located in the southwest on Ouyang Road is the Zhu Qizhan Museum. In the north on the bustling Duolun Road lies the Shanghai Duolin Museum of Modern Art. The Shanghai Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA Shanghai) on Nanjing West Road was the first independent gallery to open in Shanghai.
Today they feature international and contemporary Chinese art and design. The Shanghai Zendai Museum of Modern Art (Zendai MoMA), which is located on Fangdian Road in the middle of the most modern neighborhood, Pudong, cultivates, however, a totally cultural approach to contemporary Chinese art.
The art scene in Shanghai can be aptly named a "hot pot" (a sizzling traditional Chinese dish). It has all kinds of Asian art and can be considered sizzling and savory in terms of its up and coming Chinese art scene status.
When the Swiss sinologist and art historian Lorenz Helbling opened the ShanghART Gallery in 1996, the art scene there still focused the successes of Western auction houses and art galleries. Interest in Chinese art, if at all, was at most limited to Beijing.
Helbling successfully began to take down the terminology differentiating eastern and western art, thereby convincing buyers of the high quality of Asian art. And so artists like Wang Guangyi (b. 1956), Zhao Bandi (b. 1966) and Pu Jie (b. 1959) came to receive international recognition.
The galleries pulled in not only buyers and sellers but also artists to Shanghai. And thus a lively and above all self-confident art scene developed rapidly, starting a transformation of some parts of the city. The relocation of the ShanghART Gallery from an upscale hotel to a former textiles factory on Moganshan Road laid the foundation for it becoming a distinctively artistic neighborhood.
Likewise the Eastlink Gallery set up shop in a factory hall with installations and performing art. The Vanguard Gallery of Lise Li has not only paintings and prints on display, but also etchings. Artists like Feng Zhengjie (Chinese Pop Art) or the Shine Art Space Gallery are also based in this neighborhood.
Additionally the German gallery owner Lothar Albrecht (of Frankfurt) and Alexander Ochs (of Berlin) opened a new gallery "Shanghai Contemporary. Albrecht, Ochs & Wei" in 2002 with a salesman from Beijing, Wei Wei, who had studied in Hamburg.
And yet another Swiss laid the next milestones in Shanghai. Due to the initiatives of an erstwhile art director from Basel named Lorenzo Rudolf as well as those of a gallery owner and collector from Genf named Pierre Huber, the international art exhibition Shanghai Contemporary opened in September 2007.
Like their fellow compatriot Helbling, for Rudolf and Huber it was about destroying the bridge separating east and west not only in respect to artists but also in terms of art galleries on exhibition. Only about half of the approximately 120 exhibitors represent the Asia: China, Japan, South Korea, India, Indonesia, Singapore, Taiwan Thailand.
Western galleries were also among the exhibitors, including many renowned ones even if they weren't the biggest names. Among the most known would be Max Lang of New York, the Sakshi Gallery of Bombay, the Gallerie de Pury & Luxembourg of Zurich, the Gallerie Fauerschou of Copenhagen, the Gallery Park Ryu Sook of Seoul, Dolores de Sierra of Madrid and Mark Mueller of Zurich.
ShContemporary takes place at Shanghai Exhibition Center, a historical building that Mao received as a present from Stalin, which explains its large size. The hall's enormity is important for the show's unusual concept and philosophy.
It features individual presentation of Asian artists - primarily Chinese. And their degree of recognition in the West plays no role.
Author: Dieter Wanczura