Shanghai as the Global Capital of Contemporary Art

Cai Guo-Qiang Exhibition, Rockbund Art Museum, Shanghai, China, May 4-July 25, 2010 | ©  Blaine O'Neill

Cai Guo-Qiang Exhibition, Rockbund Art Museum, Shanghai, China, May 4-July 25, 2010 | © Blaine O’Neill

It is difficult to thunk of a better sign of Shanghai’s becoming a mainstream global location for ambitious art shows than a recent retrospective of Felix Gonzalez-Torres, a late Cuba-born American artist, at the Rockbund Art Museum, located in the historical center of this metropolis. While globalization is increasingly beleaguered internationally, Shanghai, once named Paris of the East, has gradually developed into a global cultural capital, based on a growing cluster of cultural institutions that are keen to exhibit local and foreign artistic talents.

Rather than being an exaggeration, this assessment reflects a long-term trend of Shanghai serving as a magnet for local and more broadly Asian collectors, such as Yiqian Liu and Budi Tek, not only to stage exhibitions based on the works they fetch from art auctions, but also leave a lasting imprint on this city in the shape of spectacular museum spaces. The Long Museum, recently celebrated as an edifice and a collection that matches New York’s Neue Gallerie and Venice’s Palazzo Grassi, announces the ambition this metropolitan center has to rival both past and present capital capitals.

This is attested to, by the year-long Shanghai Project dedicated to architecture, that the Hymalayas Museum hosts. Rather than being purely theoretical or artistic in nature, this biennial-like project, curated among others by Hans-Ulrich Obrist, opens a discussion about urban sustainability, community engagement and art biennials’ purpose. Seen more broadly, this burgeoning of Shanghai’s cultural and artistic scene reflects the shift of the global power to East Asia. In terms of the art world, this especially applies to China that this year eclipsed the United States as the leading location of art auction activity.

While the global art  establishment is still adjusting to this momentous shift, Shanghai’s hot spots, such as the West Bund district, already attract flocks of top-of-the-line galleries, curators and artists.


Cite this article as: Pablo Markin, "Shanghai as the Global Capital of Contemporary Art," in Signs, Modes, Assemblages, November 22, 2016,

Pablo Markin

Dr. Pablo B. Markin is a Blogger at, Senior Associate Editor in Culture and Sociology at De Gruyter Open and Adjunct Professor at the University of the People.

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