Already a global culture hub, Shanghai’s museum offerings just keep getting grander and more cutting-edge. From repurposed World War II-era oil tanks in the West Bund to a building with a kinetic facade inspired by Chinese opera curtains, these stunning new institutions are attracting art aficionados for their contemporary programming and design lovers for their beautiful architectural details.
Best for: Contemporary and fine art
Perched on the eighth floor of The Aegean Place shopping mall, Pearl Art Museum (PAM) is the latest high-profile museum to appear in the western suburb of Minhang, an expanse usually just glimpsed in the distance from the city’s high-speed train station.
Designed by Japanese “starchitect” Tadao Ando as part of the two-story Space of Light, the museum is seamlessly connected with Xinhua Bookstore just below.
“Since its launch, we have been harboring the hope of building PAM into a ‘wall-less art museum’ – a place where art and reading nourish each other and are perfectly integrated with people’s lives,” museum executive director Li Dandan says.
Together, both museum and bookstore evoke a spacious, light-filled space underneath a shared sky dome.
Getting there: PAM is on the eighth floor of The Aegean Place, 1588 Wuzhong Road, Minhang District. Line 10 of the metro stops at the mall’s basement level.
Essentials: Open Tuesdays to Fridays from 10am to 7pm, and on weekends from 10am to 10pm. Entry fees start from CNY100, based on exhibition.
While you’re there: The Powerlong Art Museum is a 20-minute drive away from PAM. The gallery houses both modern and classical Chinese art, including murals and cave paintings from Dunhuang, a famed Buddhist religious site in China’s northwest Gansu province.
Best for: Large format and installation art
A set of repurposed oil tanks from Shanghai’s WWII-era airports – each as tall as an Airbus A380 – have become the unexpected West Bund setting for the city’s hottest new museum exhibits, two of which opened in March 2019 after nearly six years of planning and construction.
These opening exhibitions conjured a sense of awe: TeamLAB’s “Universe of Water Particles” featured a giant digital waterfall cascading down the sides of the tank, flowers blooming where the droplets seem to fall, while Argentine artist Adrián Villar Rojas’ sculptures and large-scale installations acquired an air of reverence under the streams of light that come through the tank’s ceiling.
“We want to be energetic,” Tank Shanghai’s owner and curator Qiao Zhibing says. Spanning a total of 60,000m², the waterfront venue is designed for exhibitions, gardens and public plazas – all connected by an underground network that links the tanks together.
Getting around: Tank Shanghai is at 2380 Longteng Ave (龙腾大道2380号). The closest subway is Yunjin Road, on Line 11.
Essentials: Open 10am to 6pm, from Tuesday to Sunday. Prices vary by exhibition, currently ranging from 30–CNY150. The popular TeamLAB exhibit (on display in Tank #5 till August 21) can be reserved online through their WeChat account (上海油罐艺术中心).
While you’re there: Tank Shanghai is just south of the West Bund Artistic Center, which includes contemporary fine art venue Yuz Museum Shanghai. The two can easily be combined into a breezy afternoon of museum-hopping.
Best for: Contemporary art
Set amid towers of glass and steel in the city’s financial district, the entrance of Fosun Foundation is jaw-dropping. All you have to do is look upwards at the outward façade – a mind-boggling, shape-shifting kinetic marvel inspired by theater curtains used in Chinese opera.
The three-story tower features three layers of bronze tubes strung together, which then move across the front and sides, driven by six hidden electric motors in a motion that alters the shape.
The museum always manages to be both high art and Instagram fodder, and with a building itself that’s art in motion, what’s inside always goes one step further.
Take the elevator up to a 4,000m² gallery with big-name artists on display, such as the highly popular Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama, who made site-specific works tailored to the venue’s exhibition hall.
Getting around: The Fosun Foundation is at 600 Zhongshan Dong Er Lu, a 15-minute walk from the Yuyuan Garden metro on Line 10. It’s also a 10-minute walk south from The Bund.
Essentials: Open Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays from 10am to 6pm, and Thursdays and Saturdays till 8pm. Ticket prices vary, with the recent Yayoi Kusama exhibit priced at CNY150.
While you’re there: Head to the museum after sunset to catch the Counter Sky Garden, a rooftop installation with 300 blinking LED lights symbolizing Shanghai’s frenetic urban fabric.