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Cultural corridor takes shape at West Bund

May 11, 2018

Frequent visits to the West Bund, 11.4 kilometers long, have left me with reasons to return. The area in Xuhui District, like many other parts of Shanghai, is undergoing rapid development, which includes the vision of a West Bund cultural corridor.

Constructions along Longteng Avenue promise to make it a major attraction in the near future. It is already a popular stop for art enthusiasts ahead of its completion, thanks to existing partners who chose to house themselves there as pioneers of the vision.

Vehicles and bicycles stream along the avenue every minute, but only few stop by the art mine. Youngsters make up the bulk of visitors, with some in full sports attire, due to the facilities by the river banks.

Modeled on Paris’ Left Bank and London’s South Bank, the West Bund area along the Huangpu River stretches 9.4 square kilometers and used to be the cradle of many leading national industries, such as Shanghai Cement Plant, and a hub of modern transportation.

The former Shanghai Aircraft Factory (1950-2009), now West Bund Art, alongside the Yuz Museum hosts temporary but large-scale events like the latest IKEA Tech Festival.

Many quality showcases of the local and foreign art scenes are contained within the industrial landscape of the zone. The stone-paved exterior of the Qiao Space houses a range of contemporary artworks sourced worldwide.

The ShanghART Gallery offers a two-story display and a resource center for visitors to browse and purchase artists’ work.

Longteng Avenue is a riverside driveway devoted to avid museum visitors. I found cycling a great alternative to walking or driving to make sure I didn’t miss out from the dispersion of galleries along the stretch.

The coastal breeze makes it an enjoyable journey. I came to a halt at a low-profile building at the other side of the road. I hesitated on entering as I sensed its desolation, but the exhibition lights that peeked through one of the glass doors along with the row of minimalistic signboards channeled my curiosity.

Galleries here are free of charge, and I found myself going from corner to corner, going through the art pieces from start to finish. It was unsurprisingly void of visitors on a weekday afternoon.

The interior of MadeIn Gallery, brightened with a funky turquoise finish, struck a cheery atmosphere in the square space. The entire showcase consists of a 10-year collection of oil paintings by Yang Shen. Each artwork consists of an illustration that belonged to a “Garden Oddity” theme. Flamboyant colors filled the characters of different animals and people across different times, each combined in an out-of-the-world setting.

Time spent wasn’t any more hurried in the next few boutique galleries. The Arario Gallery was my favorite. It is filled with a series of handcrafted pieces from Chen Qiang. The only overseas branch out of its other three establishments back home in the Republic of Korea, visitors can find themselves in a reading area depicted like a cafe with its rustic furnishings, a casual bar in the corner and books galore neatly stacked along a row of wooden tables and leather seats.

I set myself down in the cozy setting and picked up the publication that was written for the current exhibition: “Of course, people could live without art, then why do people need art? It is because life makes (the) mind unsatisfied, but art can provide (the) mind with extra consolation that life cannot. The original intention of art is to let perception regain new perception and to perceive the imperceptible.”

I looked harder at the piece of work in the center of the room. In silence, I scrutinized the intricacies of patterns that were created by layers and layers of different art mediums and processes. The final piece was one that appeared like a digital print from afar, the kind I would put up as a home decoration piece as opposed to a typical scenic painting.

Light footsteps from the other room filled the hollow space, subsequently interjected by chatter coming from a pair of girls. One of them gushed about the uniformity of space between each repeated pattern and her admiration of how the light cast over the art piece. They joined me in the room where I switched comfortably to the lounge seats. They took an interest in the hippie posters on the other side of the room.

Asked if they were frequent visitors, they said they had chanced upon the place as I had. The Yuz Museum and the Long Museum, along with the West Bund Art and Culture Pilot Zone, had been more popular destinations on the list of students and visitors. Often coming from an arts-related background, young people like them identify this area besides the better-known M50 where they get their regular dips into the art scene.

Strolling by the stream as night fell and the exhibitions wound down, activity and energy shifted toward the waterfront. Vertical beams of light trim the entire stretch of the West Bund riverside, along with a distant night view ahead at the eastern bank of the river. The multiple outdoor sports amenities, such as the skating rink and the running tracks, are occupied by young and old, turning it into a lively riverside hub.

It is evident that the deposition of creative contemporary art within the strategic mix of old and new infrastructure is distancing the area from its industrial past. Something for sure, though, is that one will be spoilt for choice with sumptuous riverside treats, ever ready to feed hungry minds.

How to get there:

• Take Metro Line 11 to Yunjin Road Station, then walk about 10 minutes from the Exit 2.

• If weather permits and you feel like riding a bike, take Metro Line 12 to Longhua Road M. Station first, then rent a shared bike and take the Longteng Avenue.