In Shanghai – reborn and reborn again as months go by – M50 surges further forward in its role as nucleus of the city’s art world, despite or with thanks to an accompanying commercial identity. A combination of factors sets this mazelike complex of industrial factories-turned-studios-turned-galleries apart from other art districts or design centers, leaving it still the best place to go see art in Shanghai – even if the reasons for that have changed, or even completely reversed since its beginnings.
In the last 15 years, M50 stood up and rode a wave of art worldliness against a current of demolition. It wasn’t long ago, in the grand scheme of things, that the roads were unpaved, the buildings falling apart, and the squatting artists poor, inspirational, and working in studios. Then came ShanghART and Eastlink and collectors through the 2000s, and M50 became known around the world as a center for Chinese art, not just for Shanghai, but the whole country. Throughout the decade, perhaps an added element to the stimulation – certainly to the aesthetic charm – was the sense of transience: on a stretch of prime real estate along the Suzhou Creek, the area may have been hanging precariously at the will of developers even after artists and historians fought for and seemed to have won its preservation.
From wrecking ball to pedestal
But at some point, the force of development changed tact. With the help of government, M50 was given a new look in time (almost) for the start of the Expo: designers gave facelifts to exteriors with paint and clever hoods for AC units for the guests, while improving sewers and electrical systems for companies, studios, and galleries paying rent. Tours have been arranged so that every day, a healthy gust of foreign collectors or domestic visitors descend from buses and permeate the complex. Helpful maps are printed; a water feature has been added; a hip logo was designed; an outdoor video screen in the middle walking area displays pictures sent by anyone who wishes to participate. It’s family friendly. There’s three places to get coffee and two restaurants. The city is building a metro station nearby, and from the depths of Pudong, a first-day foreigner can get into any taxi and say, “Mo-Gan-Shan” with a Chinese language skill level of ‘butcher’ – and the driver will know exactly where to go.
The enhancement – rather than replacement – of infrastructure is only gaining momentum. Since Art Scene Warehouse – “chic, minimalist” and “massive” – suddenly disappeared Shanghai-style sometime during winter ‘10-‘11, the developers have brought in architects to break the 1800 meters into at least six ideal gallery spaces with triple insulation, steel-enforced flooring, glass doors and multiple entrances for flowing guests. A lingering, picturesque wall at the rim of M50 will soon be torn down to merge M50 with M20, making the complex even bigger and gaining a garden in the deal. This process is not the same spontaneous rehabilitation of abandoned factories of the last fifteen years, but a fully fleshed-out project where the future M50 is designed for visitor circulation, and in the larger frame, continued and elevated status.
And of course, higher rent
The effect has been Darwinian, according to art world-legend George Michell of Studio Rouge. Studio artists move to cheaper studios elsewhere, such as in the “new M50” on Wuwei Lu, with encouragement from the management itself, ushering in a gallery culture with the bigger, better-financed institutions in the spaces they leave behind.
For those who revel in gallery culture, this is nothing to complain about. “Tangram Art Center is a great addition,” says George, speaking of the massive and beautiful new exhibition spot. Others agree that the quality of art on display in M50 does not suffer from the harsher economic requirements. Thomas Charvériat, art director and founder of the techno-savvy island6 Arts Center, believes quality and success are inextricably linked. “Galleries that come here purely on speculation trying to make money won’t survive. Instead, we have places like Other Gallery, which brings accomplished curators, established artists, and international influences to make M50 a greater part of art around the world.”
However, the Darwinist rules of M50 don’t only exist within its borders. Studio Rouge’s original location is on the Bund, a home for international visitors, but eventually people realized M50 wasn’t so far away and the gallery director opened an additional space to be among the flourishing gallery pasture.
Other times, galleries have nowhere else to go. Many other art & design districts have arisen since 2007, but failed due to the way it operated or tried to compete, and also because of the absence of patient and natural buildup and growth. Other centers require the highest paying clients available, who are architects and designers not caring about or contributing to the locations’ profiles on maps, leaving galleries to wither from a lack of visitors. And meanwhile, not every landlord will be so friendly to the arts, as was the case with island6 and OV Gallery, who were somewhat chased into the haven of M50’s spacious and protected buildings.
But the future is only bright. ShanghART continues to grow, finding evermore space for its artists, young or established, in M50 and around the city. Some studio artists remain, selling the varieties of rip-off to masterpiece (left to visitor discretion), and some big names are included among the renters, such as Yan Peiming, Xue Song, Pu Jie and Zhou Tiehai. Meanwhile, the international influence remains strong with Italian-owned Galleria Dell’Arco, classy and classic Two Cities bringing artists, musicians, and philosophers, and Laura Clemente’s brand new branch of Barcelona-Berlin-based Pantocrátor Galleria, connecting the emerging artists of Europe with Asia.
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Keywords: Shanghai art district 2011 Moganshan art district M50 Shanghai 2011 M50 Shanghai
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