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March 11, 2010

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M50 plans new M50 art hub

ONCE M50, today's renowned artists' hub along Suzhou Creek, was a magnet for starving artists who couldn't afford studio space elsewhere. It was considered the cradle of Shanghai's contemporary art scene. Now it's trendy, pricey and dominated by big galleries.

Poor artists have moved out of M50 (50 Moganshan Road) and gone elsewhere. Successful artists, well-off art professors, design studios, cafes and restaurants have moved in. So have big university art schools.

The 24,000-square-meter M50 in an old textile factory is now a tourist destination like 798 in Beijing, and other art spaces have sprung up along Suzhou Creek.

But now, M50 is seeking to attract individual artists to a new and much larger venue - 280,000 square meters - in out-of-the-way Putuo District's Caoyang residential neighborhood. It's an old carpet factory with 10 spacious 1980s buildings.

The new M50, known as M50 Qilianshan Road, aims for a different mix, so that it's not top-heavy with big galleries, studios and big-name artists. The aim is to attract individual artists with reasonably priced studios, reasonable being relative to sky-high rents at M50.

But it's still likely to be out of the reach of many young artists.

The new hub at Qilianshan and Wuwei roads offers "incredibly perfect" studio space as well as warehouse art museum space, featuring big installation and sculpture that cannot be created or exhibited elsewhere.

In order to attract artists, M50 has invited big names, including Liu Jianhua, Yang Fudong, Yang Zhengzhong and Xu Zheng, to open studios - at low rent. All have accepted.

Rents will be significantly lower than at M50, but prices were not immediately disclosed.

However, Qilianshan Road may seem an unlikely spot for a new creative landmark.

"That doesn't matter, who ever heard of Moganshan Road years ago?" jokes Jin Weidong, who is in charge of M50 business operations. M50 started attracting artists back in 2000.

"We are confident we can change the unknown place and obsolete factory into a dynamic art venue, as we did with M50."

Most of the buildings on the site are two stories, simple and clean, lofty and spacious, mostly built in the 1980s, far different from the gritty old warehouses on Moganshan Road.

"It will be an extension of M50," says Jin.

Today M50 showcases the best of Shanghai contemporary artists, as well as emerging talents (those who can afford it, or whose galleries can).

In 2000, local contemporary artist Xue Song was attracted by the old warehouses along Suzhou Creek, and the low rent.

He moved in and soon other artists, such as Ding Yi, Qu Fengguo and Wang Xingwei, opened their studios.

Galleries such as ShangART Gallery, Eastlink Gallery and ArtScene took up residence.

Around 100 artists work there.

But M50's success has meant that the space has lost its original function as an oasis for artists.

"So in recent years we have been searching for other suitable places for artists," says Jin. "It's a very difficult task especially at a time when the real estate industry in the city has gone insane."

The only option is to find space far away - Wuwei and Qilianshan roads.

"Unlike M50, we hope this new hub will mainly cater for artists instead of galleries and design companies," Jin says. "Location wise, it's clearly inferior to Moganshan Road, so we are considering a new art mode, the warehouse art museum concept."

ShangART Gallery, a major contemporary gallery in the city, is opening a branch covering 28,000 square meters.

"It's a perfect place to showcase some installations and big sculpture in the gallery's collection," says Helen Zhu, of the gallery staff.

One of the works to be shown is Xu Zheng's "Dinosaur," an over-whelming installation featuring a 10-ton, 8-meter-long dinosaur statue, occupying two huge clear plastic crates. It definitely challenges the viewers' visual experience.

"The work was made in 2007, and we have only exhibited it one time because there's no space for us to show such a gigantic artwork," says Zhu.

The same also applies to Zhang Ding's installation featuring several refrigerators and Yang Fudong's 3-ton stone column.

"Unlike our H Space in M50, our warehouse art museum space focuses mainly on installation and sculpture, which in the past was unthinkable," Zhu adds.

Because of its out-of-the-space, not many ordinary visitors are expected, but ShangART plans to invite students from art academies around China for a study series.

M50 Qilianshan Road operators also hope to attract artists by offering "incredibly perfect" studios.

"This is the ideal studio that I dreamed of," says Liu Jianhua, a renowned artist who recently created the 17.5-meter-high "Global Magnet" sculpture in front of the Shanghai International Financial Center.

His new 1,000-meter, two-story space is almost twice the size of his former studio. It includes work area, exhibition space, storage, office space for Liu and two assistants and his personal lounge.

"It really solves the problems of storing my works while exhibiting them to the public," he says.

Yang Zhenzhong, a local video artist, can even play billiards in his spacious studio that includes a balcony perfect for barbecue parties.

Of course, for young and unknown artists, the "incredibly perfect" studio is probably far out of reach even on Qilianshan Road. However, if they can swing it, or their backers can, it could be a launching pad.

After all, many of those who first moved into M50 in the year 2000 never dreamed they would become big names and known as "big brother" in the art community in just a few years' time.

Address: 18 Wuwei Rd

For rent or more information, contact Jin Weidong at 1360-1856-361


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