How apt that the map of the property also calls it a ‘creative park’. The art galleries that were once factory spaces are a labyrinth, offering a variety of artistic styles — from oil paintings, to mixed media, pure photography or sculpture installations.
I sunk back into this environment with surprising ease, after being permanently scarred all those years, carted around by my ex as his art ‘wife’.
For a change, art and I were alone, without the pompous airs. We lit candles to set the mood and held hands, which allowed me to make new discoveries about modern art in Shanghai.
Contrary to misconceptions about Chinese censorship, there seems to be a lot of freedom to express oneself. M50 is accessible by taxi (not really metro) and prepare to spend a few hours walking and unearthing some hot and happening work.
My friends and I searched by instinct. If an exhibition seemed worth a look, we went in. You can also gauge a map for what might interest you when you arrive or research online. There’s certainly no correct way to savior art, no matter what those pedantic art critics say.
I’ve chosen a few pieces and styles that really spoke to me. Hope they do for you!
From an exhibition called “We Are All Bachelors”, artist Wei Yi captured an ethnic minority group of men from a village in western China. The village has an interesting dilemma, there are very few available females in comparison to single men, which has left many males without wives or children at 40 + years of age. Considering that all the buzz in China is about leftover women or shèngnǚ, it was unusual to find spinster men. Wei captured their place in time and history with a haunting brush.
Wei also completed full size portraits of the lonely bachelors.
Wei Yi’s other work are in-depth perspectives on the daily lives of migrant workers and their families. How they exist, where they toil, and the sacrifices they make towards the urbanization of China.
As you wander around M50, you’ll notice various pieces of sculptural art.
Like this very industrial looking rhino:
Or this ambitious large scale one — gigantic man. Mind the gap in his belly.
I’m not one for this type of work, some have captured my eye in the past, but mostly I’m fairly neutral on this style. But I quite fancied these! They were sparse, yet evocative.
I was absolutely enthralled with Qiu Shengqian’s oil paintings that fuse the futuristic with classic Asian images. I was thrust into a new dimensional world of space alien geishas, punk rock emperors and ebullient Buddhas who mocked more than forgave.
A bit of mixed media action for you, this piece involved reclaiming old Chinese books and reforming them into a modern statement. The exhibition — “Heritage” by Chen Linggang.
This one felt bizarro. I kept picturing The Hanged Man card of a tarot deck. This exhibition is “Tree of Man” by Mao Yu.
In divination, The Hanged Man can symbolize a life in suspension, which describes China’s face at the moment. A country that has yet to complete its future. Though the red ribbons imply blood flowing down. What do you think?
I had no idea China had such a selection of ceramics. Shows what I know.
These richly fired vases are from artist Liao Liao.
China has a sense of humor! Pull the string and see what happens.
I envision a classy Chinese lady buying these as her wedding setting. Porcelain with a blue pigment of cobalt oxide that’s generally applied by hand — very delicate looking.
These made me giggle. Artist Dong Tao’s Chinglish tells us why she created these [typed as seen with spelling errors intact]:
“Everyone have their memories about the childhood. The dream is the wonderful fantacy from maker, she desired to be companyed with huge rabbit, go around the world, to sence the beauty of nature. Perhaps the innocent dream of childhood, is the realest about inside.”
I’d buy a rabbit based on that description alone! But they go for 1,280 RMB, so maybe not.
Everyone should get their own Shanghai fan for 128 RMB. All the hep cats are doing it!
Before you conclude that Chinese art is merely calligraphy and ink strokes of plum blossoms, Shangri-La mountain ranges and willowy women, visit Moganshan Lu to open your eyes. You’ll find yourself reeducated, permeating with that art glow.
Glad I got mine back.