Visiting an art museum or gallery is always a good idea, no matter if you are travelling on a budget, are seeking indoor activities for smoggy or rainy days or are genuinely interested in art, culture and history. Our favourite places in Shanghai for creative inspiration are the M50 Creative Park, the China Art Museum Shanghai and the Propaganda Art Centre.
M50 Creative Park
The M50 Creative Park is a unique little area of local artists’ galleries, art shops and cosy little cafés. There are a few established art galleries set in old warehouses, but most galleries and exhibitions frequently change, so there’s always something new to see. Almost all of the exhibitions can be visited for free; however, there are always one or two rare exhibitions of popular artists for which you need to buy tickets in advance. Our favourite thing to do in this creative park is just to explore as many galleries as possible in a random order, getting lost and treating ourselves with some unique souvenirs and posters. Most artists are very friendly and welcome a chat with their visitors. You could spend hours at M50 and if you’re in Shanghai just for a few days, it’s the perfect spot to go and visit the Jade Buddha Temple or the Bund afterwards.
China Art Museum Shanghai
When you permanently live in Shanghai, you take going to Pudong into serious consideration before going there, as it just seems so far. This is what kept us from visiting the China Art Museum Shanghai for a long time but in reality was nonsense as from our apartment it only took about 15-20 minutes by taxi to get there. Thanks to the museum’s importance and popularity (and not least as it’s situated on the old expo grounds), it even has its own metro station (中华艺术宫站; Zhōnghuá Yìshù Gōng Zhàn; Line 8) so there are no excuses to miss this one! Situated in the China Pavilion at Expo 2010, the grounds offer opportunities for plenty of different and frequently new, interesting exhibitions from Mongolian art over Shanghainese contemporary art to a photography exchange between West Australia and China. And if that wasn’t enough, all the artwork is equipped with QR codes you can scan through your WeChat account to read about the painting’s background. Not only does this museum have it’s own Starbucks, but it’s also opposite a mall with plenty of restaurants, near the Paulaner Hofbräuhaus (Expo branch) and one or two cinemas in reach. Again, if you are travelling on a budget, it’s worthy knowing that the admissions to the China Art Museum is free.
Propaganda Art Centre
If you’re a local, finding this extraordinary exhibition will be doable; however tourists should pay close attention to how to find this little gem. We made it into the gallery by entering the residential compound complex 868 Huashan Road, walked around inside the complex until reaching the last building which is signposted to host the Propaganda Art Centre in the basement. Just take a flight of stairs downstairs and you’re there! Visiting the Propaganda Art Centre is like a history lesson and an important one to learn, no matter if you live in Shanghai or are just visiting, as most propaganda posters have been created by Shanghainese artists. Even though there are not that many posters displayed, each one’s title is translated to English (which makes a significant difference to understanding the image) and there are many info texts about the period of when these posters were created and published (e.g. during the Cultural Revolution) and explain the setting and background of the images. This unique exhibition certainly invites to go back home and read up on Chinese history. The admissions fee of 25 RMB seemed reasonable and you can buy original posters, postcards and souvenirs in their gift shop. Apparently, most of the posters (originals and copies) can only be bought there.
If you’re not in the mood for going to a museum, but rather fancy shopping and dining with a creative kick, you should consider going to the K11 or Xintiandi Mall (click here to read our review from last year). Both of these malls’ interiors remind me of Alice in Wonderland playgrounds and host fancy designer brands alongside local artists’ arts and crafts. For example, in the Xintiandi Mall there is a shop where you can buy, write and send postcards – to your future self! Even if you’re not in a spending mood, it’s fun just to do some window shopping, browse the creative kitchenware and stationary shops and treat yourself to a really good coffee.
Interestingly, all the art galleries that we have visited so far in China haven’t been crowded, so these are also great activities for national holidays like the upcoming Chinese New Year.