Moganshan Lu 莫干山路

 

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Monganshan Lu was initially a group of derelict industrial warehouses about 200 km west of Shanghai. However, by 1996 the area began to undergo a rapid process of commercialization, which transformed the once marginal location into a thriving international market for contemporary Chinese art--Shanghai's equivalent of Beijing's 798 Art District. Although works of avant-garde art are created throughout China, many eventually arrive at Moganshan Lu to be sold to collectors, dealers, and galleries worldwide.

M50 Industrial Buildings by the Suzhou River (2009) Photo by Abalav
M50 Industrial Buildings by the Suzhou River (2009) Photo by Abalav

Contents

Nature & Origins

Moganshan Lu is known by a number of different names including the Churiming Art Industrial Park, the Shanghai Creative Industry Clustering Park, and most commonly, the M50 Art District. The name M50 is derived from the main thoroughfare that passes by many of Moganshan Lu’s commercial galleries.

By the end of the 1980s a number of artists including Fu Yuehui, Gong Jianqing, Hu Yuelong, Li Shan, Li Zuming, Qin Yifeng, Shen Fan, Weng Liping, Wang Guoqing, Wang Ziwei, Hui, Yu Youhan Yang Xu, and Zhao Chuan began participating in various avant-garde exhibitions such as the “Concave Art Show” and the “M Conceptual Art Performance Show in Shanghai. Although some of the participants in these shows would informally meet to discuss art, politics, and social issues, the formation of individual art groups or villages was relatively uncommon when compared to locations such as Beijing. 

Unlike their counterparts in the capital, artists in Shanghai seemed to retain a greater sense of autonomy in their collective artistic pursuits. This spirit of independence persisted even when multiple artists were living and working in close proximity to one another. Although major shows in Beijing were scarce following the 1989 China/Avante-Garde exhibition, Shanghai artists continued to participate in a number of small avante-garde shows throughout the early 1990s.
M50 Road Side Galleries
M50 Road Side Galleries

The absence of funding and the difficulties associated with organizing private exhibitions provided Shanghai artists with an incentive to participate in exhibitions organized by commercial galleries. Instead of forming individual art collectives such as the Yuanmingyuan Village or the East Village in Beijing, Shanghai artists found support through emerging gallery systems such as the ShangART gallery owned by Lorenz Helbling, which opened in 1996, and BizArt, formed in 1999. For a private or non-profit art organization to acquire legal status in China it must register as an affiliate of the national government. This affiliation often results in the enforcement of laws prohibiting exhibition of particular works in non-profit galleries, an example of which is the 2001 act banning performances art with explicit sexual content. Many of these strictures were avoided in Moganshan Lu, however, either by cooperation with the authorities, or through a lack of enforcement. Some argue that the revenue resulting from foreign investment in Moganshan Lu’s contemporary art scene played a considerable role in lessening oversight. Despite the official leniency, many of Moganshan Lu’s galleries still avoid showing particularly controversial works of art and m
M50 at Dusk (2009) Photo by Frankcz
M50 at Dusk (2009) Photo by Frankcz
any Shanghai artists choose to eschew political subject matter for more introspective and aesthetic explorations. With the inception of ShangART gallery, the first state sponsored Shanghai biennial in 1996, and the BizArt gallery, local artists were provided with the funding and support needed for the development of Moganshan Lu’s Art District. Following the closure of the Chunming Slub Mill in 1999, artists began renting cheap spaces in ten old manufacturing buildings that covered an area of about 41,000 m2. By 2002, organizations such as BizArt were conducting their business transactions within individual Moganshan Lu factory studios. This unique arrangement included both buying and selling works of art, and allowed for an extremely rapid turnover for of represented works. This rapid turnover positioned both BizArt and the artists they represented to quickly accumulate substantial amounts of revenue.
M50 Alley & Encroaching HighRises
M50 Alley & Encroaching HighRises

Although the collaboration between artists and galleries played a crucial role in the expansion and recognition of the Shanghai avant-garde, some individuals were unhappy with the amount of influence commercial organizations had in developing Shanghai’s art scene. Artist Ai Weiwei and critic Feng Boyi mounted an exhibition protesting the commercialized nature of the 2000 Shanghai Biennale with a show titled Fuck Off held at the Eastlink Gallery warehouse. The exhibit included works by 48 artists who shared a common anti-establishment ideology. The show was both a literal and symbolic protest against the close ties that existed between many commercial galleries and the artists they represented. However, in the end, the Fuck Off exhibition did little to stop further commercial development in the Moganshan Lu Art District.

Significance

Moganshan Lu is the most established place in Shanghai to buy, sell, or see cutting edge works of contemporary Chinese art. Without the support given to artists by the district’s galleries, many of the now most prized works of contemporary art might not have gained international exposure.
The Shun Art Gallery at M50 (2009) Photo by Jaime Sinz
The Shun Art Gallery at M50 (2009) Photo by Jaime Sinz

Recent Developments

Currently the Moganshan Lu Art District is home to a number of small design firms, clothing shops, and furniture stores and hosts approximately 40 commercial art galleries. Although the old factory buildings are still used as studio space, they have been renovated a number of times to accommodate new galleries. Approximately 100 artists live and work in the district and more than 400 people visit the locale everyday. Some of the better-known galleries include m97, Art Scene Warehouse, BizArt, ShanghART, and the Shine Art Space.

Recently, there has been some debate over expensive and seemingly discriminate rent practices. Some artists are required to pay up to (RMB) 5 per m2 a day to rent studio space in Moganshan Lu. While others pay as little as (RMB) 0.4 per m2 per day. Project manager for M50, Di Lifeng, describes this pricing model as “a flexible practice, which nurtures M50 as a brand,”  and enables well-known artists to pay cheaper rent. Di adds, "We do raise the rental fees for some new coming artists, of course, and they may pay more than those core artists." According to Zhou Bin, a staff member at Shangtex, the reason for the variable rent is that, “We don't want to find the same 100 artists at M50 year after year. It is not a stagnant place, it demands fresh air and blood." While this exercise may help bring in new artists and move old, unsuccessful, ones out, it does little to foster a stable artistic community. Despite the tension that seems to exist between making money and supporting artists, the Moganshan Lu Art District continues to thrive and remains essential to the promotion of Chinese contemporary art.

References

Charlotte Higgins: "Is Chinese art kicking butt ... or kissing it?": The Guardian: 2004

Ingrid Commandeur: "The rise of the creative class in Shanghai": ArtLog

Maggie Ma: "Lorenz Helbling's ShanghART Gallery": ARTZINE

Sanghai Daily: Shanghai SoHo--50 Moganshan Road

The Shanghai Creative Industry Clustering Park

M50 Streaming Video: YouTube


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