SHANGHAI — I was in Shanghai when the San Francisco Museum of Asian Art delegation came to Shanghai (its sister city since 1980), and I was delighted to join them for a few busy days.
I like to report on various museum’s trips to China, as it highlights what is happening in the art and museum world and gives readers a chance to see “the best of the best.”
Heading the SFAAM delegation was Museum Director Dr. Jay Xu, who was born in Shanghai and at one time was one of the assistant curator at the Shanghai Museum. Since Jay is a local boy made good – actually, better than good! – the delegation got the “royal treatment” everywhere.
He explained the purpose of the intense expedition: “This is not a shopping or sight-seeing trip. The focus is looking at contemporary art.”
The PENINSULA SHANGHAI
The delegation checked into the fairly new, luxurious, five-star Peninsula Shanghai Hotel that held its grand opening in late 2009. As Shanghai is legendary for its 1920’s and 1930’s Art Deco architecture, and the hotel was designed to blend in with the feeling of the historic Bund neighborhood.
One morning I met up with the museum group at the Shanghai Museum, which opened in 1996 in People’s Square, and showcases 5,000 years of Chinese history with more than 120,000 objects.
If you see only one museum in Shanghai, it should be this one because it has the finest collections of Chinese art: bronzes, sculpture, ceramics, calligraphy, paintings, coins and jade, Ming and Qing-dynasty furniture, and crafts made by China’s 55 minorities.
TAOPU ART DISTRICT
The next day we boarded the bus for Taopu Art District, in the Putuo residential area that is becoming a new hot spot for contemporary art.
The Taopu Outside Park (TOP) located in a carpet factory/warehouse complex built in the 1980s, had just opened a few days earlier and is still under the radar. I was excited about going, as I had missed the opening because I was in Beijing.
SHANGHART TAOPU (WAREHOUSE)
At our first stop, Swiss-born Lorenz Helbling, who is the force behind this new art district, greeted us. A well-respected art expert, he opened ShanghART, the first major international contemporary gallery in Shanghai in 1996, and was one of the first to participate in Art Basel since 2000.
In the afternoon, the group also visited Lorenz ShanghART Gallery in M50, another art district, in a post-industrial area. As I had other plans, I skipped this part.
ARTISTS YANG FUDONG AND SHEN FAN
Among the artists exhibited at ShanghART Taopu was Filmmaker Yang Fudong, who produces powerful video and photographic works. His black-and-white films, originally shot in 35mm, are some of the most beautiful made in China.
Also greeting us was artist Shen Fan, whose work “Landscape: Commemorating Huang Binhong” was on exhibit during SFAAM’s “Shanghai” exhibit. The legendary artist Huang Binhong was a modern master Chinese landscape painter, thus the tribute.
THE STUDIO OF YANG ZHENZHONG
We walked across the alley from the ShanghART Taopu to the studio of Yang Zhenzhong, another artist who works with video and photography.
LIU JIANHUA STUDIO
Next, we visited the studio of ceramicist Liu Jianhua. Liu was trained in Jingdezhen, the “Porcelain Capital,” where imperial ware for the Emperors was once produced. The artist is known for his multi-color-glazed porcelain works, often in blue-and-white and “famille rose.”
MadeIn is a collective of artists formed by conceptual artist Xu Zhen. Zhen experiments with a wide variety of art forms, including installations, video performances, photography, and paintings. He is a graduate of the Shanghai Arts & Crafts Institute, which undoubtedly influenced his decision to found MadeIn in 2009.
LUNCH IN THE FRENCH CONCESSION
Noon. We headed back to the city. The group enjoyed a Chinese cuisine luncheon at Ding Xian Huayuan, a British-style mansion turned eatery surrounded by a peaceful Chinese garden.
Later in the day, the Asian Art Museum group met at Pearl Lam’s Contrast Gallery in the Bund area. The ubiquitous Pearl, who has established herself in Shanghai, London, and Hong Kong, is one of the great forces in Chinese contemporary art—as a collector, art patron, and dealer. This May (2011), she announced all her galleries will be renamed to Pearl Lam Galleries.
Pearl was featuring a solo exhibition: “Shao Fan: An Incurable Classicist.” Artist Shao Fan is known for bridging Chinese traditional images and forms and reinterpreting them for modern times.
That night, one of the highlights for the Asian Art Museum group, was the soiree at Pearl Lam’s extravagantly and whimsically appointed penthouse with its own art gallery. It was the perfect ending to the Shanghai trip.
The next day the Asian Art departed for the city of Hangzhou, which you will read about it in the next column, Part II.
FULL SCHEDULE FOR THE ASIAN ART GROUP
If you’re planning a trip to Shanghai, you might look at the SFAAM’s itinerary as a guide of places to visit.
Here’s a sampling of their packed itinerary during their six days in Shanghai: a walk along the Bund; a trip to the Shanghai Gallery of Art, where Director Mathieu Borysevicz gave them a tour; a stop at the recently opened Rockbund Art Museum for contemporary art; a trip to the village of Zhujiajiao to see an opera written in 1598 “The Peony Pavilion” and directed by composer Tan Dun; a historic tour with historian and business leader Patrick Cranley; lunch with historian Tess Johnston; dinner at the home of gallerist Elisabeth de Brabant; dinner at real estate developer Vincent Lo’s Private Club; a visit to the studio of artist Zhang Huan; a stop at Shanghai MoCA; and a traditional Shanghai “Hairy Crab” dinner. Whew!
Photographs by Jeanne Lawrence
*Urbanite Jeanne Lawrence reports on lifestyle and travel from her homes in San Francisco, Shanghai, and New York, and wherever else she finds a good story.