Art China Shanghai

Contemporary Art in China : Shanghai Biennale

After having a wonderful Christmas break, it may be hard to be back in Shanghai under a grey sky. Fortunately, we are entering into the Chinese New Year holidays! If you get one day off or if you’re traveling to Shanghai before March 10th, 2019, you must visit the 12th Shanghai Biennale. It is located in the Power Station Of Art (PSA), an iconic building located near Huangpu River. Within 27 meter height, PSA contains six floors dedicated to international artists. And you better go there early in the morning if you want to enjoy the contemporary art exhibition to its fullest.


Contemporary Art in a Chinese international outreach era


The 12th Shanghai Biennale edition has started in 1996 and aims to improve, every two years, the worldwide influence of China in Asia and Western countries. Inviting international curators like Cuauhtémoc Medina (Mexico), the Biennale proves that China is willing to conquer the world with its contemporary art scene.

If you didn’t know, a Biennale is a « large-scale exhibition of contemporary art, named for their host city and typically managed by a combination of public art museums, government agencies, and philanthropic supporters. » (Explainer: what is a biennale?, The Conversation). Each Biennale is happening every two years, as it is hard to gather all these art creations in one unique place.

Actually, « China is the world’s third-largest art market after the United States and the United Kingdom, accounting for 20 percent of total sales in the $57 billion global sectors. » according to a report from Art Basel and UBS. Chinese citizens are more and more interested in the flourishing Art Industry, while the government invests a lot of energy in the international outreach of the Chinese art industry. You may have heard about 798 in Beijing or M50 in Shanghai. While Beijing is the capital of artistic movement’s creation, Shanghai is the window on the international scene. That’s why the Biennale was established in Shanghai.


Proregress : Art in an Age of Historical Ambivalence


The Shanghai Contemporary Art Biennale is curating a large number of international artists from many countries as like Philippines, Algeria, United Kingdom, China and more. The theme « Proregress : Art in an Age of Historical Ambivalence » was chosen on a word from the poet E. E. Cummings and its idea of « mocking the dogma of progress ». It’s a word that « condenses « progress » and « regress » in one single word ».

The presented artworks are the reflexion of our current world, with constant ambivalence between economics, science and technology innovations and the social, environmental and political issues we can observe.

I particularly loved a quote from the introduction text in the main hall which says :

« We not only assume that one of the tasks of the artist is to render his or her works with a certain ability to serve as oracles, but we also expect them to become omniscient objects in order to help us understand our own condition » – Cuauhtémoc Medina.

It means that artists are expressing fundamental concepts that help us to have a better understanding of our current society: understand our rights, the human migrations due to environmental or political issues, the destruction of nature because of economic perspective and so on.

If you’re not enough lucky to visit it, here are my two favorite works : 


  • Alexander Apostol, Dramatis Personae

Alexander Apostol is a photographer, filmmaker, and videographer from Venezuela. The selection of its 60 photographies represented at the 12th Shanghai Biennale gently criticize the political movements in Venezuela over the past twenty years. Each character is wearing a confusing name and a lot of makeup, which confuses its gender.


shanghai biennale

Alexander Apostol biennale
Alexander Apostol, Dramatis Personae


  • Alfredo Jaar, A Hundred Times Nguyen

Alfredo Jaar is a militant Chilean artist, architect, and filmmaker which is involved in political and social issues related to globalization, wars, refugee crisis and so on. His work is extremely powerful as he has covered an entire room with a picture of a little girl he has met in a Hong Kong refugee camp. In the interval of 5 seconds between each picture, Alfredo depicts the emotions of the little girl, who, he said: « has never left his hand until the moment he has left the camp ». He supposed that she was born in the refugee camp as 30 children every month.


shanghai biennale

contemporary art shanghai
Alfredo Jaar – A Hundred Times Nguyen, 1994


To conclude, the 12th Shanghai Biennale is the perfect place to find inspiration and fill your brain with new ideas and concepts of the contemporary world we’re currently living in. Of course, if you’re not into contemporary or conceptual art, you can admire the original designs. Although conceptual art is no easy to understand, each piece of art is explained and the tone is quite popularized. Now, you know what’s your plan on Sunday!

Power Station of Art
200 Huayuangang Road
200011 Shanghai

Visit the website here.


If you want to know more about the art industry, you can read my articles about Art Democratization through Online platforms as well as getting to know the Best Online Art Platforms.

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