The next time someone gleefully tells you that ‘there’s no culture to be found in Shanghai’, maybe you can redirect them to this article, and the fact that Shanghai’s modern art scene is alive, kicking and full of more culture than you, or any Beijing based art critic can shake a stick at!.
I took a taxi along Changhua Rd (昌化路) just up by the Suzhou Creek and took a sharp turn eastwards. The brightly painted walls narrowed in and before I knew it I was facing a factory area, itself brightly painted in all sorts of decorations, patterns and designs.
I had entered the world of Shanghai modern art, the southern commercial metropolises answer to artsy Beijing’s 798 Art District, but with less of the hype that has built up around the Beijing one over the last few years.
So, what is this place and how comes I’ve never heard of it?
It is known as M50 Creative Park (M50 创意园) and is comprised of 10 or so reconstituted old warehouses and factories on the upper reaches of the Suzhou Creek, the majority of which are centered around Moganshan Rd (莫干山路).
Located in evocatively named Shanghai No. 20 Fabrics Factory and Shanghai Chunming Yarn Factory. It all started in the factory found at No. 50 Moganshan Rd and even today something of the ‘art circle’ undiscovered by the rest of the world feel pervades the place.
It’s not as if the area sprung up the other night, however. Construction stopped fully in the last of the area’s factories as late as December 31st 1999. The first studio lease was then signed back in May 2001, and artists have been creating new and experimental art in the evocative 1930s industrial shells of Shanghai’s older trading past, for several years.
Indeed, it is in part due to the fact that Shanghai is known not for its culture, but for its slick commercialism that the area has been kept deliberately low key. Whereas Beijing’s 798 has seen a boom in interest and the growth in the business of art that accompanies it, Shanghai’s M50 Creative Park has largely been ignored and left to flourish as a haven for cutting edge Chinese urban art.
So for those of you who live in the ‘cultureless’ capital of commercial China, or if you’re simply passing through Shanghai on business or pleasure, the factories-cum-art studios just north of Shanghai Railway Station on Moganshan Rd are worth an afternoon of exploration. You never know, the old girl might have more than the usual surprises up her sleeve.
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