Five Must-Visit Contemporary Art Museums in Shanghai

Between the high-profile architecture and the evolving contemporary art collections, these museums in Shanghai offer up a feast for the eyes.

Rapidly evolving in the past decades, the contemporary scene in Shanghai boasts a great range of art venues today, including some prestigious museums and a solid group of art galleries, making the city one of the best destinations for Contemporary Art in Mainland China and the Asian region. And you don’t have to worry about language and app barriers. Shanghai is highly international, advanced and efficient—once you have a VPN and are signed up for DiDi and Alipay, you’ll be able to navigate the city’s vast cultural geography smoothly.

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In the early 2000s, there was a lot of discussion about the museums springing up all over China. Many of these museums were created for tax and finance purposes and often involved famous architects. Many people at that time predicted that these museums would remain empty or mostly showcase the buildings without much in the way of actual art. In reality, most of these museums have created solid programs, established serious collections and launched important partnerships with top art institutions around the world.

Keep reading for a look into some of the art museums you should put on your itinerary for your next trip to the region and what they have on view this summer.

Long Museum

Installation view with Chinese ink paintings hanging i a hyper contemporary architecture
Installation view Blossom – The Tenth Anniversary of The Long Museum – Long Museum (West Bund). Courtesy Long Museum

Established by billionaire art collectors Liu Yiqian and wang wei, this institution, officially known as the Long Museum West Bund, opened in 2014 and is part of a larger cultural complex in Shanghai’s Xuhui District along the Huangpu River. The museum welcomes visitors with its stunning, full concrete modern architecture designed by Liu Yi-chun, a Chinese architect from Atelier Deshaus; the building covers an area of 33,000 square meters with 16,000 square meters of exhibition space. The main building is characterized by a unique umbrella-vaulted structure divided into four floors. The Hopper Corridor (doulang) was transformed from the former Coal Hopper (meiloudou) construction at Beipiao Port, creating a rational and tranquil sense of industry and primitivism as well as offering a sharp contrast between power and lightness, while endowing the museum with an acute quality of contemporariness and creativity. The exhibition space in the basement is a classic white box space, which allows other curatorial opportunities.

In addition to hosting an extensive art collection, which includes Chinese porcelains and some major names from the local and international art scenes, the Long Museum also serves as a cultural hub, with well-curated temporary exhibitions and a variety of educational programs, workshops and public events aimed at promoting art appreciation and cultural exchange.

The museum’s main location in West Bund is currently celebrating ten years of its collection with “Blossom – The Tenth Anniversary of The Long Museum,” which presents more than 200 paintings by over 150 artists. Divided into five chapters (“Glamour of Heaven and Earth,” “Flowers in the Bloom,” “Flowers in the Wild,” “Flowers and Portraits” and “Everlasting Flowers”), the show unfolds a narrative of flowers spanning ten centuries, from traditional Chinese flower-and-bird paintings to modern artworks of the mid-nineteenth century and then to contemporary art. Highlights in the show include work by big names such as Anselm Kiefer, Jonas Wood, Yayoi Kusama and Takashi Murakami to Jadé Fadojutimi and Yuan Fang, as well as a beautiful installation by the duo Allora and Calzadilla.

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Additionally, the museum is hosting a solo exhibition of powerful cosmic abstractions by previous street art artist Chen Yingije, “Intuitive Wanderings,” that includes new works inspired by his trips and field paintings from locations such as Yunnan and Tibet. Also on view is the curated show “On Stories,” which showcases over forty works related to movies, plays, novels, folktales and legends, as well as a conversation between Wan Liu and Yang Bao’s site-specific installations and sculptures. Finally, the solo exhibition of Iranian artist Mehdi Ghadyanloo, “The Stolen Memories,” presents twelve of his fantastical new paintings and works on paper alongside older pieces, including a series of playful and dreamy children’s toys of all sizes and shapes from slides to rocking horses and merry-go-rounds.

The museum operates two other branches: the Long Museum Pudong, which opened in 2012 and houses modern and contemporary art, and the Long Museum Chongqing. All branches of the Long Museum contribute significantly to Shanghai’s reputation as a growing center for art and culture, bringing to the city a triple-A collection and becoming part of its cultural heritage.

Installation view with Modern and contemporary paintings hanging on the wall.
“Blossom – The Tenth Anniversary of The Long Museum” at Long Museum (West Bund). Courtesy Long Museum

Power Station of Art

View of the building with the city landscape
A view of Power Station of Art in Shanghai, part of the booming West Bund Art district. ©Power Station of Art

Established in 2012, Power Station of Art (PSA) was the first state-run museum in mainland China dedicated to contemporary art. It is also home to the Shanghai Biennale. Standing tall by Shanghai’s mother river, the Huangpu, PSA occupies an area of 41,000 square meters. Designed by Original Design Studio in a former Power Station, the museum boasts 15,000 square meters of exhibition space , but of course, its 165-meter chimney has also made it an integral part of Shanghai’s world-famous skyline.

Currently, PSA is hosting “Impermanence – 4o Years of Estudio Campana,” the first Asian survey on the global career of Brazilian design duo Estudio Campana and their visionary, eclectic approach to design. The exhibition, which runs through September, stages some of their most iconic pieces within a spectacular framework designed by Humberto and Fernando Campana: an awe-inspiring structure of artificial stalactites and stalagmites, standing as a reference to Plato’s Allegory of the Cave, where visitors can roam freely and discover the works, as they materialize from behind the organic-looking columns, like a game of hide-and-seek. “Plato’s classic allegory is something we can all relate to at any age or background. I like to think we are all born curious, and this scenography is an invitation to embrace estrangement, step away from your comfort zone, and be rewarded by the courage to let imagination run free in an adventurous search for joy,” Humberto Campana said in a statement.

On the 7th floor, another show celebrates the 10th anniversary of the PSA Emerging Curators Project, which, since its inception in 2014, has already supported more than fifty young curatorial talents. In this year’s two final selected proposals, “Pidgin Spectrum: Nonlinear Narratives of Multiculture” (curated by LI Jiawen and ZHANG Jiawei) and “Terrestrial Landing: Planet Candidates” (curated by Rainne ZENG and Tianle HUANG), we find very progressive and forward-thinking works that translate some of the most pressing concerns and themes close to the young generation and prove how the emerging Chinese art scene can be on top of the contemporary conversation around technology, environment and multiple sense of reality.

Additionally, on June 12 PSA will open the major first retrospective devoted to the work of Gabrielle Chanel in China, “Fashion Manifesto,” with the exclusive support of CHANEL and design by Diller Scofidio + Renfro (DS+R) in a show co-organized by the Palais Galliera, Fashion Museum of Paris, and Paris Musées.

Installation view with design pieces by Estudo Campana: sofa, armchair, and another art installation similar to a tent.
“Impermanence – 40 Years of Estúdio Campana” at Power Station of Art. ©Power Station of Art

Art Museum Pudong

Installation view with two screes and digital avatars of a woman
Cao Fei, “Tidal Flux” at Museum of Art Pudong, Shanghai. Museum of Art Pudong

Located under the iconic Pearl Tower, Art Museum Pudong opened to the public in 2021. It is supported, funded and managed by the Lujiazui Group and was designed by Archistar Ateliers jean nouvel (AJN). The museum aims to present world-class exhibitions to its audience while showcasing the work of domestic artists. Currently on view is “Tidal Flux,” a significant show by Cao Fei, arguably one of the most important and well-known Chinese artists on the global scene, who made her name with the at-the-time visionary and futuristic project of RMB city, a sort of metaverse before times. Fei was one of the first Net Art artists to create this fictional Chinese city constructed in the online virtual world of Second Life, which she then used in different works and installations. She was one of the pioneers in creating a powerful commentary on the compressed modernity and the meteoric rise of the Chinese economy between technology and social policies, as well as on the blurring boundaries between physical and virtual experience—something that is, by now, more and more interchangeable and intertwined.

“Tidal Flux” marks the artist’s first large-scale mid-career retrospective in Shanghai and one of the largest solo exhibitions of her works ever staged globally. Highly immersive and thought-provoking, the exhibition exemplifies Cao Fei’s creative worldmaking,  inviting visitors on an engaging journey into the recent past and an advanced future that is already here for contemporary China as a global power. This intricate major show also has a stellar curator group, including Nancy Spector from the United States, Xue Tan from Hong Kong, China, and Yang Beichen from Beijing, China.

Also on view at the museum through September is “Ages of Splendor: A History of Spain in the Museo del Prado,” co-organized by Museo Nacional del Prado and marking the most extensive presentation of Museo del Prado’s collection in China in terms of scale with seventy masterpieces on loan for this show, over half of which are being shown for the very first time in Asia. Spanning the 16th to the 20th Century, the exhibition brings to China works by Titian, Veronese, El Greco, Rubens, Zurbarán, Velázquez, Murillo and Goya, among others. Additionally, an “In Focus” curatorial section also sheds light on the intricate interconnections between Prado’s Mona Lisa and the original at the Louvre.

On the 4th floor, we find “Fantastic Visions: 100 Years of Surrealism,” organized by the Museum of Art Pudong (MAP) with the National Galleries of Scotland and featuring a selection of Surrealist works from their collection, by artists including  Salvador Dalí, René Magritte, Max Ernst, Joan Miró, Leonora Carrington and Dorothea Tanning. And finally, the museum has an ambitious site-specific installation by Chinese artist Xu Bin, “Gravitational Arena,” in Exhibition Hall X at MAP.

Installation view with digital art on the Shanghai's pearl Tower background
Another view of “Tidal Flux.” Museum Of Art Pudong

Yuz Museum

Yuz Museum's exterior view
Yuz Museum Shanghai was designed by Japanese architect Sou Fujimoto. Yuz Museum Shanghai

Yuz Museum Shanghai officially opened in May 2014 and is a contemporary art museum founded by Mr. Budi Tek, a Chinese-Indonesian entrepreneur, philanthropist and collector who started his art collection about ten years ago—mostly with Chinese contemporary paintings, but especially those created between early 1980s and late 1990s. He then moved to integrate international contemporary art, adding names such as Maurizio Cattelan, Fred Sandback and Adel Abdessemed. As usual, architecture played a big part in turning this into a must-see destination: the main building is the result of a major conversion project of the hangar from the original Longhua Airport. Designed by Japanese architect Sou Fujimoto, the entire complex covers an area of over 9,000 square meters, with the main gallery occupying more than 3,000 square meters. Currently, the museum is hosting an extensive solo exhibition of the Chinese artist Shi Zhiying, “Stones and Stories,” running through July 14; the first major exhibition of the French artist Diane Dal-Pra in Asia, “Inside the Folds,” just closed.

West Bund Museum x Centre Pompidou

West Bund Museum architecture
The West Bund Museum, Shanghai, opened in 2019 after a five-year collaboration with the Centre Pompidou, which has been renewed for another five years. West Bund Museum

Among the locations the Centre Pompidou has opened worldwide, the Shanghai outpost was one of the first successful attempts at Museum Diplomacy.  The collaboration started with a memorandum in 2017 as one of the highest-level cultural cooperation projects between China and France and was included in the Joint Declaration between the People’s Republic of China and the French Republic in 2018. In 2019, it opened to the public at the moment of the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China and the 55th anniversary of establishing Sino-French diplomatic relations. Designed by British starchitect David Chipperfield, the West Bund Museum is a critical element of the Museum Mile or Xuhui Waterfront, destined to become one of the most significant cultural districts in Shanghai and Asia.

Following the success of the first five years of collaboration, a contract renewing the partnership for a further five years was signed last year. The aim is to embrace a more expansive cultural perspective, deepen collaboration on various aspects, and jointly shape new possibilities in arts and culture. “The Shape of Time” (curator: Marcella Lista) was the first of the semi-permanent touring exhibition that gave a start to this collaboration, introducing the history of art in the 20th and 21st Century that are due to be rolled out successively over the next five years. A second semi-permanent exhibition followed, “The Voice of Things,”, which was on display from July 2021 to February 2023 and brought together a collection of emblematic works, ranging from the avant-gardes of the early 20th Century. Currently on view is “Mirrors of the Portrait. Highlights of the Centre Pompidou collection,” the third semi-permanent exhibition, on display through November 2024, which brings together a selection of three hundred works from the Centre Pompidou collection dating from 1895 to the present day, focusing on portraits as an essential form of art in the course of civilization.

Five Must-Visit Contemporary Art Museums in Shanghai