Shanghai Social Diary: More New Art Museums in Shanghai

The China Art Palace, built as the China Pavilion for Shanghai’s 2010 World Expo, has been transformed into a modern art museum.


Last fall, the Shanghai Biennale inaugurated the new contemporary art museum, the Power Station of Art.

Two other art venues opened at the same time: the China Art Palace (CAP) and the private OCT Contemporary Art Terminal (OCAT).


Inaugurated on October 1, the National Day of the People’s Republic of China, the China Art Palace (CAP) is housed in the former China Pavilion, a huge vermillion structure that was one of the highlights of the 2010 Shanghai Expo.

Intended to rival New York’s Museum of Modern Art and Paris’s Musée d’Orsay, the CAP offers more than 750,000 square feet of exhibition space for modern art from China and around the world.

According to the China News Service, by 2009 China already had more than 3,000 museums, including 328 that were private, with 100 new ones having opened per year between 2009 and 2011.

How will these museums be filled? Auction house records show that individuals are buying works that represent their own history and culture. Will they keep these prizes for their own private collections or donate them to the new state-owned museums?

The China Art Palace (CAP), located in the Pudong New Area, is a bright red pagoda-like structure influenced by classic Chinese architecture but with a modern sensibility.

The CAP replaces the Shanghai Art Museum, seen here, which had been located in the former Racing Club on the edge of People’s Park.

With such massive space, the CAP can display large works of art.

While at the moment the museum is now the largest in China, a new, even larger museum in Beijing is currently in the planning stages.

The CAP will display international pieces, as well as room after room of Chinese art.

Upon opening its doors for the first time, CAP hosted exhibitions from five international museums, including New York’s Whitney Museum, Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum, Paris’s Maison de Victor Hugo, Mexico City’s Museo Nacional de San Carlos, the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, and the British Museum.

The enormous CAP is intended to impress the world and to drive the development of Chinese art. Although some complain that the museum is not as conveniently located as its predecessor, the Shanghai Art Museum, the expectation is that new restaurants and boutiques catering to tourists and art-lovers will open and draw more visitors to the area.


The China Art Palace’s blockbuster inaugural exhibition included a show entitled Millet, Courbet and French Naturalism, consisting of 87 masterpieces borrowed from the Musée d’Orsay in Paris and selected by that museum’s curators Stéphane Guégan and Xavier Rey.

Many of the works in the China Art Pavilion opening exhibit, Millet, Courbet and French Naturalism, had never before been displayed in China.

As we arrived, we witnessed the formal ribbon-cutting ceremony.

During the opening ceremony, the room was packed with international and local VIP’s, art lovers, dignitaries, and members of the press.

With the traditional ribbon-cutting, the China Art Palace opened for business!

The officials included both French and Chinese delegates.

The show gave an overview of 19th-century French realist and naturalist art, with paintings from artists who worked from the mid-1800s to the early 1900s, such as Jules Bastien-Lepage, Alfred Roll, Rosa Bonheur, and Jean-Baptiste Camille Corot.

Some of the most important works include the “The Gleaners” by Jean-François Millet (1814-75), depicting three women collecting the harvest leftovers, and “The Source” by Gustave Courbet (1819-77), a naturalist painting of a back view of a nude that created a sensation in its day.

Planned future exhibitions include an Andy Warhol retrospective and a show of works by Vincent van Gogh.

Matthew Liu, Nicolò Mori and Maria Victoria Caio Mori, and Christophe Tanguy.

As the opening was “by invitation only,” we enjoyed the galleries without the huge crowds.

Jean-Baptiste Camille Corot’s “Le Matin. Gardeuse de Vaches” (Morning. Cow Shepherd).

Art dealer Anne-Cecile Noique, artist Yan Pei Ming, and Jeanne Lawrence in front of Alfred Roll’s “Manda Lamétrie, Fermière” (Manda Lamétrie, Farmer).

Throngs of museum-goers came to see this once-in-a-lifetime show.

Cow paintings by Rosa Bonheur.

French artist Christian de Laubadère, who lives in Shanghai, was of course among the attendees.

Jules Breton’s “La Glaneuse” (The Gleaner).

Mrs. Xhingyu Chen, author of the book “Chinese Artists: New Media, 1990-2010,” in front of Jean-François Millet’s “Bergère avec son Troupeau” (Shepherdess with Her Flock).

I found it surprising that the art captions were not in English but in French and Chinese only.

Alfred Roll’s “Portrait du Peintre Damoye” (Portrait of the Painter Damoye).

Jules-Alexis Muenier’s “La Leçon de Catechism” (The Catechism Lesson).

Alexandre Howard, Alexander Westwood McBride, Jeanne Lawrence, Max Berko, and Luke Yang.

Jean-François Raffaëlli’s “Les Invités Attendant la Noce” (The Guests Awaiting the Wedding).

Jean Béraud’s “Le Défilé” (The Parade).

This attendee dressed artistically for the occasion; behind her are Vivien Cesbron, Alexandre Howard, Guillermo Garcia Tirado, Christophe Tanguy, and Luke Yang.

Three art lovers with artist Christian de Laubadère and gallerist Elisabeth de Brabant.

Left: Jules Dupré’s “La Vanne” (The Valve). Right: Narcisse Diaz de la Pena’s “Le Braconnier” (The Poacher).

Outside the museum, we stopped to grab a healthy snack—steamed sweet potatoes sold from pushcarts that, with luck, you find here and there.


On another day, I visited the OCT Contemporary Art Terminal Shanghai (OCAT), another new addition to the ranks of private museums such the Minsheng Art Museum, MoCA Shanghai, and the Rockbund Museum.

The spacious OCAT on Suzhou Creek opened in a big way, naming as its director “father of Chinese video art” Zhang Peili and hosting a stunning retrospective of work by famed photography and video artist Yang Fudong called Quote Out of Context.

OCT Contemporary Art Terminal, a new private museum that opened in a warehouse on Suzhou Creek, an industrial area, is the art branch of a property development group based in Shenzhen.

The museum’s inaugural exhibit was a retrospective of the works of Yang Fudong, one of China’s best known and most influential cinematographers and photographers.

The retrospective included more than 50 of Yang’s photographs and the mesmerizing video installation, “One Half of August.”

Yang’s sumptuous scenes often seem like they’ve been clipped from major cinematic productions.

Intriguingly, Yang’s work merges fiction and reality.

In these altered realities, it’s up to the spectator to make the connections.

With the multi-channel artworks he’s produced in recent years, Yang forces audiences to choose which screen to watch at any given moment.

“One Half of August” consisted of a large dark room in which eight screens projected black and white scenes from Yang’s earlier films onto various objects.


Photos by Jeanne Lawrence.

*Urbanite Jeanne Lawrence reports on lifestyle and travel from her homes in San Francisco, Shanghai, and New York, and wherever else she finds a good story.

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