Sunday, December 1, 2013

China 2009: Shanghai - The Bund, Moganshan Art District, Shanghai Museum

The Bund in Shanghai is a waterfront district with a long quay that follows the Huangpu River, facing the stunning skyline of neighbouring Pudong. 

The area also hosts many historical buildings dating back to the 1920s, in various architectural styles including Neo-Classical, Beaux-Arts and Art Deco.  Many of the buildings were occupied by foreign banks and trading houses from countries such as Britain, France, Russia, Germany, Italy, United States, the Netherlands, Belgium and Japan.  The Japanese invasion during the Second World War, followed by the Communist rule curtailed further development in this area.  As a result, the buildings in this part of Shanghai have been embalmed in time.  

 The French Concession was a section of the Bund that was considered to be "French Territory" between 1849 - 1943.  Many influences from that time, including Art Deco buildings and French stores and clubs still exist today.  

A contemporary art district with hundreds of artist studios and art galleries can be found at 50 Moganshan Road.  Nicknamed M50, it is home to some of Shanghai's best known artists.   It was apparent that this area was formerly a complex of factories and warehouses, as the walls, floors and elevators still had that concrete and steel industrial feel.  Imagine our surprise when the elevator doors opened to find an elevator attendant with her own little "office" that included a rolling chair and a table on which sat her lunch and thermos.  Imagine spending your entire day in that enclosed space, especially if no one called for the elevator!

Some of the art showed clear capitalistic influences from commercialized Western culture.  In one painting, the iconic Terracotta Warrior is wearing cool shades and holding US cash and brief case.  Another work pairs the image of a traditionally dressed Asian woman with that of Marilyn Monroe, while angry looking Communists figures seem to be protesting below.  Even images of figures in Red Army uniforms are stylized in a subversive, mocking manner.

One set of pictures went beyond mere subversiveness in their shockingly blatant side-by-side comparison of Chinese Red Guards to Nazi soldiers.  While China has clearly become a bit more open than in the earlier days of Communism, it is still surprising that such art would be tolerated to be so openly displayed.  A sculptural piece that depicted black army boots with white bones inside them, seemed to comment on the tragic cost of war.

 Colourful graffiti cover the walls in the neighbourhood streets around Moganshan.  The art area was off the beaten path in Shanghai back in 2009, and we had trouble finding a taxi driver who knew how to get us there.  We thought it would be easier on the taxi ride home, since our hotel was located in the popular Jing'an Temple area.  Instead, we were rejected by multiple taxis, even though there was not another passenger in them.  In each case, the driver would read the business card with the address of our hotel, shake his head, mutter something in Mandarin and point to a sign written in Chinese.  After we finally made our way back, we found out what the issue was.  The drivers did not own the vehicles they were driving, but rather were assigned to them on shifts.  We were trying to hail a cab during the taxi "turnover" period, but they could not accept the fare since they had to return the cabs to their headquarters so that the next driver could start his shift.

The Shanghai Museum is located on the People's Square and hosts ancient Chinese art.  There are pieces that date as far back as the Han dynasty (220AD).

The museum includes collections of bronzes, sculptures, ceramics, jades, arts and crafts, paintings, calligraphy, seals, furniture and currency.

Of particular interest were a series of ceramic "pillows" that were used in ancient times.  After seeing these, I felt ashamed of ever complaining about the firmness of my pillows.

We also admired a set of colourful glazed ceramic porcelains depicted fierce-looking warriors in battle gear.  The Shanghai Museum is huge with over 120,000 pieces on display.

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