Getting concrete about abstract art

Source:Global Times Published: 2010-6-29 13:50:15

American artist Ford Crull paints at the opening of the Bund 1919 art bank. Photos: Courtesy of Bund 1919

By Huang Xi

On a bright afternoon in Baoshan district, far from the hustle and bustle of downtown, American artist Ford Crull painted on two large black-and-white boards while local pianist Shi Wen played the well-known "Butterfly Love," a somber opening for a promising new art haven.

Art lovers and artists traveled to the unusual locale to celebrate the opening of the Bund 1919 art bank, the first locale designed exclusively for abstract art in Shanghai.

Five old buildings at Shanghai No.8 Cotton and Textile Factory, which were built in 1919, have been turned into a cultural and art enclave and named Bund 1919.

"We are determined to make a La Rive Gauche in Shanghai," said Zheng Peiguang, the owner of Bund 1919 and Redtown 570, another immerging creative art zone located on Huaihai Road West.

As well as abstract art, this art studio includes other genres like sculpture, photography, music, installations, videos, architecture and design.

New kid on the block

The success of Redtown 570 has fomented Zheng's confidence in the future of Bund 1919.

His previous experience in art has given him the inspiration for building this new project, combining an art studio and fashion consumption, just the right mix for many young artists.

"I can meet other abstract artists here and exchange ideas with them, which is very important in my research and creation," Li Lei, a prominent abstract artist and the executive director of the Shanghai Art Museum, told the Global Times.

The owner is providing a useful service for the creation of art, attracting a number of big names including Sun Liang, Xue Song and Pan Wei.

"I think this way will definitely work in the future because the atmosphere is quite inspirational," said visitor Yu Yan at the opening of the Bund 1919 art bank.

But not everyone agrees with Zheng's strategy.

Wang Guanying, the creative director of Zhenghai Real Estate who is now in charge of another creative zone construction in Shanghai, thinks it will cost too much to give such a large space to these artists.

"They (the operators and owners) need to inject more money to support the running of the venue," Wang said. "I'd rather have those art organizations in colleges and universities."

But the owners are sure that the big names will attract leasers quickly.


A showroom of Bund 1919.

Into the crystal ball

The overall planning for Bund 1919 is as ambitious as its counterparts in the city.

The venue includes a 6,000-square-meter art bank, a 15,000-square-meter design center, an 8,000-square-meter experience center and an 8,000-square-meter entertainment space.

But so far only the art bank has been occupied, and there is a lot of space waiting for tenants, putting it in much the same position as many studios and galleries in the city. The new space will face the same old problems.

High rents and over planning are threatening the development and survival of many of the creative art zones in Shanghai.

Hong Pingtao, the former owner of the Wujiaochang 800, said that in order to attract more galleries he had even tried to offer the space for free which had some effect, drawing big galleries like the ShanghART Gallery.

But the financial crisis soon killed Hong's dream of building the best art zone in Shanghai.

The famous galleries moved out, and Hong had to go back to the drawing board and started a gallery called Shanghai Canvas Art Center on Songyuan Road.

He Zengqiang, the secretary general of the Shanghai Creative Industry Center, said: "Lowering rents is the most direct and effective way to reduce the vacancy rate but we still need help from the government and the tenants themselves."

Apart from a few "deserters," the majority of galleries and artists choose to stay.

Jin Weidong, the owner of M50, said that only three galleries withdrew their business in 2009.

"I will stick for a while because I am afraid that I will not be able to come back again if I choose to leave," a gallery owner surnamed Li at M50 said.

Others like 1933 Laochangfang switched operations quietly. The slaughterhouse-turned creative zone is more like a fashion resort with luxury boutiques and restaurants rather than the self-proclaimed "cultural and art center."

"But we do respect art and will never give up the dream of turning it into an art haven," said Wang Xiaolei, the owner of 1933 Laochangfang.

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