Unlike Beijing, where galleries tend to concentrate in the 798 Art District, Shanghai has a far more dispersed art scene — as good an excuse as any to explore a few of the city’s charming neighborhoods.
Leo Xu Projects (Lane 49, Building 3, Fuxing Xi Lu), which opened in 2011 in a charming three-storey townhouse on the edge of the French Concession, shows an emerging generation of Chinese artists like Cheng Ran, Liu Chuang, Guo Hongwei, and Liu Shiyuan, while Antenna Space (202, 50 Moganshan Lu, Building 17) oversees a similarly cultish roster of younger talents like Guan Xiao, Yu Honglei, and Xu Qu, who have recently been making waves at the LISTE art fair in Basel and the Louis Vuitton Foundation in Paris.
And although the Bund, which recalls the architectural grandeur of a past era, has long been one of Shanghai’s most conventionally picturesque districts, it’s a different stretch of the Huangpu River that has been newly transformed into a vibrant quarter in recent years.
Dubbed the West Bund, this former industrial zone dedicated to aircraft manufacturing is the latest attempt by local authorities to create a pleasantly landscaped urban waterfront environment. Over the next decade or so, Shanghai even hopes that this “West Bund Cultural Zone” will become something akin to Southbank in London, with multiple museums and galleries flocking here.
At one end of the district is the West Bund Art Center (2555 Longteng Avenue), which hosts the West Bund Art & Design fair held each November, directed by artist Zhou Tiehai. Next door is ShanghART’s new gallery (Building 10, 2555 Longteng Avenue), which resembles a stacked tower of shipping containers with a rooftop terrace, and exhibits veteran Chinese artists like Yang Fudong, Xu Zhen, Zhang Enli, and Ding Yi. And a short taxi ride away is the Yuz Museum (35 Fenggu Lu), which houses the private collection of Indonesian-Chinese magnate Budi Tek in a massive converted aircraft hangar designed by Sou Fujimoto (currently on view until the end of July is a sprawling retrospective of some 250 artworks by Alberto Giacometti).
Further up along the riverbank is another privately owned institution of epic proportions — Long Museum West Bund (3398 Longteng Avenue), the second museum of the maverick art collector Liu Yiqian and his wife Wang Wei. With its soaring, vaulted ceilings in cast concrete designed by local Shanghainese firm Atelier Deshaus, the Long’s galleries manage to feel both primitively cave-like and sleekly futuristic at the same time.
Those looking for a bit of homegrown design luxury should head straight for Shang Xia (233 Huaihai Zhong Lu), where custom-made cashmere coats, teapots made from porcelain and woven bamboo, and other choice artisanal wares are displayed in a graceful, minimalist interior housed in a century-old brick building designed by Kengo Kuma.
A more contemporary design sensibility flourishes at The Waterhouse at South Bund (1-3 Maojiayuan Lu), a boutique hotel housed in a three-storey former Japanese army building that’s been given the industrial-chic treatment by neri&hu with a judicious use of glass, timber, and Corten steel. On the fourth floor rooftop bar, Shanghai’s pretty young things convene for drinks with a great view of the river across to the gleaming skyscrapers of Lujiazui, while in-house restaurant Table No. 1 rustles up modern European small plates by Jason Atherton in a raucous atmosphere.
Closer to the downtown action in the French Concession, you’ll find more examples of how resourceful entrepreneurs have carved out impressive spaces in hidden nooks, all tucked away from the street. Case in point: the unmarked bamboo-lined entrance to Shintori (803 Julu Lu, near Fumin Lu), a darkly romantic warehouse-like refuge that dishes up sashimi salads and steamed pumpkin and seafood buns on elegant tableware custom-made in Jingdezhen. For drinks, head next door to sister establishment People 7 (805 Julu Lu), where the gently glowing bar surrounded by raw concrete walls in an airy, open layout make this a prime spot for late-night cocktails, Asian-fusion tapas, and nocturnal people-watching.