Art flourishes down by the river

Updated 2018-06-23 13:14:05

An area where ships were built, where aircraft flew in and flew out and where manufacturing held sway is now a place for more idyllic pursuits.

Eight years after the Shanghai World Expo drew millions of visitors to the city, a show there on a much smaller scale but that lacks none of the dazzle is drawing art aficionados from far and wide.

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

The area, about 10 kilometers south of downtown Shanghai, on the western bank of the Huangpu River, across from where the 2010 World Expo was held, covers 9.4 square kilometers. It used to be an industrial zone that included shipyards, factories and a hangar. After the expo, district authorities decided to develop the western bund region into an arts and cultural center.

"I have seen the area really grow," says Grace Zhang, deputy director of Yuz Museum. "When we opened in 2014 it was just us and the Long Museum."

The area received a fillip in 2015 when the Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer Liu Heung Shing opened the Shanghai Center of Photography there. In 2015, too, the ShanghART Gallery, a leading light in the city's contemporary art scene, and MadeIn Company, headed by the contemporary artist Xu Zhen, set up shop in the West Bund, and other galleries and studios have 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 took part. During the event, artworks and installations were 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, featuring emerging artists through a series of solo exhibitions or group shows.

The Long Museum was founded by Liu Yiqian and his wife Wang Wei in 2012.

The West Bund has been an important catalyst in the growth of Shanghai's art market, Zhang says. One reason is the strong government support in the form of financial subsidies for major exhibitions and events as well as policies that nurture and promote the arts.

Culture is one of the four areas, with services, manufacturing and shopping, that the city will promote to make it more competitive and influential, a government paper issued in April said.

More impetus was needed for the city's cultural growth, the Shanghai Party Secretary, Li Qiang, said, and by attracting prestigious artists and industry leaders, the city could show off its cultural credentials.

The West Bund area is likely to grow in stature, and Zhang said more new office buildings, cultural and creative industry centers and commercial facilities will sprout up soon. One of the most notable developments will be the franchise gallery of the Pompidou Centre in Paris.

The Yuz Museum, founded by Budi Tek, a Chinese-Indonesian entrepreneur, philanthropist and art collector, covers 9,000 square meters and used to be a hangar that was part of Longhua Airport.

The new museum, designed by the British architect David Chipperfield, is now being built. The Pompidou Centre says it has signed a renewable five-year deal with the State-owned West Bund Group to stage exhibitions in the new museum from next year.

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