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M50 the big magnet for contemporary art
2013-09-03
By Li Anlan

M50 along the Suzhou Creek in Putuo District is Shanghai’s major art district and tourist destination filled with contemporary art and many workshops, studios and galleries where visitors can wander.

Once home to young struggling artists seeking cheap rent in old warehouses, M50 is now much more upscale. Struggling artists have had to move elsewhere, though some emerging artists are still shown by established galleries at 50 Moganshan Road.

The well-trod location is convenient and close to the downtown area. It’s a 10-minute drive from Nanjing Road W. It’s pleasant to stroll along Suzhou Creek.

M50 is similar to the larger 798 Art Zone in Beijing, a 50-year-old decommissioned military factory transformed into an art space.

Painting of all kinds

M50 galleries feature paintings of all kinds, sculpture, ceramics, photography, and installation and other art.

The large warehouse spaces can accommodate large installations.

M50 is a popular cultural attraction for tourists interested in contemporary art. Time magazine calls a visit to M50 one of the 10 Things To Do in Shanghai.

A number of foreign galleries have opened.

ShanghART gallery operates two spaces at M50 on Moganshan Road. It has a third space in Shanghai in Taopu, also in Putuo.

The Swiss owner Lorenz Helbling opened his first space in 1996 in Shanghai and relocated it to M50 a few years later. It was one of the earliest galleries in the art hub.

“It has nice spaces, good location, and many artists have studios here,” he said.

ShanghART gallery, with branches in Beijing and Singapore, has become one of the most influential in Chinese contemporary art.

When Helbling first opened the gallery on Moganshan Road, the area wasn’t well known. But now the street of small shops has become an artists street. “Back then nobody knew Moganshan Road, now people know,” Helbling said.

Helbling came to Shanghai to study Chinese at Fudan University in the 1980s, and he worked in Hong Kong before returning to Shanghai to open a contemporary art gallery.

“Contemporary art is never easy, you need to find good art works and keep good relations with artists,” he said. “People don’t usually know who the artist is.”

He looks for artists with their own language and artistry.

The gallery organizes eight to 10 exhibitions a year at the two spaces in M50.

In 2008 Roberto Ceresia opened contemporary art gallery Aike-Dellarco at M50. The Italian, who opened a gallery in Palermo when he was age 25, had visited Shanghai in 2006 and was impressed.

“I came to M50 and saw some studios and galleries. When I had just arrived, there was an opening of a solo show. It was quite captivating,” Ceresia said.

In 2007 he attended an art fair in Shanghai.

Amazed gallery owner

“I was amazed by the number of people and galleries in a very intriguing vibe,” he said.

He explored art zones, including M50 and Hongfang, another art zone in Shanghai.

“The best gallery in Shanghai was here, the ShanghART, there were so many elite galleries and the atmosphere was really nice,” Ceresia said.

In 2011 he closed his gallery in Italy to focus his energies in Shanghai, and opened a space at M50 in 2012.

“Since I moved here, the director of the gallery shifted to representing more emerging young Chinese young artists,” he said.

“I always try to find an artist who makes things we have not seen before,” Ceresia said.

Every year Aike-Dellarco hosts six to 10 exhibitions. It also takes part in art fairs.

For contemporary art, M50 is the place to see.

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