Once known by European traders as the Paris of the Orient, Shanghai, China’s financial center and one of the world’s largest metropolises, is also a blossoming center for contemporary art. M50, the city’s avant-garde artist community, is gaining comparable recognition to Beijing’s trendy 798 Arts District. MOCA Shanghai, located at the heart of the city in People’s Park, is the first nonprofit, independently operated contemporary art institution in Shanghai.
On my recent trip, I visited MOCA, which is currently showing the exhibition Merging Emerging: Art, Utopia and Virtual Reality. Among those artists whose work was exhibited, one in particular reminded me of L.A.
Zhong Kangjun’s City (2008), a diminutive rendition of Shanghai, offers an interesting combination of dystopia and wit. On the one hand, City, constructed out of iron, looking worn and dirty, reminds one of what Shanghai might look like in a state of complete dilapidation. On the other hand, navigating through this toy-land version of Shanghai actually feels possible and uncomplicated, a contrary sentiment to many foreigners’ experience. Miniature cars weave through traffic below, and above toy planes wrap around skyscrapers; urban activity seems to be pulsing almost as swiftly here as it does outside the museum doors.
While standing next to the “my-size” Oriental Pearl Tower, I thought of my city: Los Angeles. Also a city with a thriving contemporary art scene, Los Angeles shares in the big city ambiance of traffic congestion and buzzing activity. Looking at City I began to think about the urban energy in cities like Shanghai and L.A. that offers inspiration to so many artists; the yin to the yang of the natural world which likewise ignites artistic creation. Glancing at my watch, I realized it was almost time for evening rush hour in Shanghai. While I hustled through the sea of people in the subway, Los Angelenos were just waking up, sipping their morning coffees, and preparing to face the 405 freeway.