Finding art in the Paris of the East

Don’t bother with Shanghai if nature and fresh air are what you’re seeking. However, if you desire nurturing your artistic side, Shanghai offers many creative oases dotted among a concrete jungle of glitzy skyscrapers and shiny shopping malls. During my first four months here, I’ve found refuge in art exhibitions, serene neighborhoods that captivate, and even a foreign bookstore.

I knew at the onset that my transition to Shanghai would be rough. I left behind friends, subtropical weather, and plentiful hiking opportunities I had while teaching in Shenzhen for two years. Finding an activity to soften the blow of the move was necessary. Enter art. My inner explorer’s compass and new people I met pointed me to the city’s numerous art attractions.

BeeHome Hostel (No. 210 Dongyuanercun, Lane 498, Dongchang Rd – 90rmb for a dorm bed) was my base for two weeks in August before I moved into my school’s dormitory. The quiet hostel has a perfect location in the middle of a bustling community in Lujiazui, the city’s world-renowned CBD known for its futuristic skyline. Shanghai’s clean, efficient metro system first took me to the West Bund (Middle Longhua Road Station), anchored by the Long Museum (50rmb) which hosts contemporary art galleries. The area, which is being developed as an arts district, has a wide riverwalk that makes for a nice escape from the city’s crowds.

Also facing the Huangpu River is the Power Station of Art (free admission), a short walk from Exit 2 of South Xizang Road Station. PSA — mainland China’s first state-run museum dedicated to contemporary art — is an imposing structure as it was formerly an actual power station for Shanghai until 2007. For modern art with a bit more edge and my personal favorite in the city, M50 is an eclectic  cluster of art studios, dealers, and shops near Jiangning Road Station. Be sure to walk down Moganshan Road to see the graffiti-covered wall that leads to the mural-adorned arts district. Most recently, I visited China Art Museum (free admission; own metro station on Line 8), which focuses on Chinese modern art and is currently hosting an eye-catching exhibit on local artists.

Looking for more creative inspiration? Get off any metro station in Xuhui, Shanghai’s French Concession district, and simply walk down the inviting streets, which are lined with broad-leafed, mature trees and grand 1920’s and 1930’s French lane houses. Most foreign expats call this neighborhood home so plenty of Western restaurants and cafes can be found. Of course, no visit to Shanghai is complete without a visit to the Bund, the city’s famed Art Deco-inspired strip on the river facing the skyscrapers of Lujiazui. When the tourist crowds and souvenir hawkers wear you out, head back to East Nanjing Road Station or the nearby Foreign Language Bookstore (390 Fuzhou Rd) for a coffee and the city’s largest selection of books in English.

After being greeted by August heat, I now seek respite from the city’s coming winter in a cafe, reading a good book or planning the next day’s lessons. On my to-do-list is a return trip to PSA to see the 11th Shanghai Biennale, which is getting rave reviews (click here).