One of the most exciting neighborhoods in Shanghai has sprung up along Moganshan Lu in a dilapidated industrial complex near Suzhou Creek. Drawn by low rent, artists have flocked to the area now known as M50, an abbreviation of the address 50 Moganshan Lu, where a former factory has been converted into a collection of galleries and artists’ studios. Incredibly, I had yet to visit this creative enclave until a friend mentioned an exhibition there that she wanted to see. Another friend and I met her there, excited for an afternoon of art in a new-to-us part of the city. What immediately struck me when the taxi pulled up was the graffiti murals covering the walls along the street. Many of the vibrant works had been signed by the artist and represented some of my favorite pieces of the day.
Once we finally made it into M50, which is guarded but free of charge, I was impressed by the variety of art styles represented. Appreciation of modern art can be very subjective and there truly was something for everyone, from paintings and photographs to sculptures and mixed media pieces. One of the first exhibits we toured, ‘We Are All Brothers’ by Chinese artist Wei Yi, featured a series of portraits of men from China’s ethnic minority populations. The life-size paintings felt almost three dimensional as the men looked ready to step out of the canvas and get back to work. A nearby gallery was filled with vivid contemporary landscapes and nudes. All three of us were captivated by yet another exhibit of graphic, gothic-geisha paintings of Chinese artist Qui Sheng Xian.
The grounds of M50 are dotted with contemporary sculptures and even more graffiti-covered walls and you never know what you’ll find around the corner. We were certainly surprised by the exhibition in the ShanghArt gallery. The poster by the entrance led us to believe we’d find a beautiful collection of ethereal black and white photos and not the sparse, humorous modern installation that was actually inside. Again, art is subjective.
Further along Moganshan Lu, a small space called M97 is making a name for itself by showcasing contemporary photography by international artists. At the time of our visit, the gallery featured ‘The Raw and the Cooked’ by Peter Bialobrzeski, whose photographs beautifully capture the kinetic energy of Asian cities and their increasingly ambitious skylines.
Should you need a break, stop by the Traveled Coffee&Tea cafe conveniently located near the M50 entrance. The cozy space offers a full menu of Chinese and Western dishes, though the house specialty is the hot chocolate. Served with a cookie, the chocolate is so thick and creamy, it’s almost like drinking pudding – and I mean this as high praise.
Note: The best way to reach Moganshan Lu is by taxi. My driver knew M50 by name and there were plenty of taxis available for the return trip at the end of the afternoon.