Introducing The China Art Palace

How to get the most out of the new Chinese modern art museum

The China Art Palace is the new incarnation of the China Pavilion. With 160,000sqm of space, there’s a ton of art, mostly from the past century, but not all of it is unmissable. Time Out explains how to streamline your visit

Get a ticket before you go

The China Art Palace (CAP) is free to visit, but you can’t simply show up. You need to first book a ticket online. The process is a real headache, especially if you don’t read Chinese, so we've created a guide online,

Once that’s sorted, there’s a Line 8 metro station, called ‘China Art Palace’, that stops right outside the museum. If you’re coming from the Shanghai Power Station of Art, you can take bus number 1213.

Take it from the top

CAP has exhibitions on five floors, which are named by altitude. Pick up an audio guide (20RMB, 200RMB deposit) on the ground floor – the guide bots struggle with Chinese, but they’re better than the patchy English language signage – and take a lift straight to the floor called ‘49m’. You can then descend floor by floor via ramps and escalators.

As well as Xu Jiang’s iconic bronze lilies, ‘Alliance No.2’ (pictured left), this floor introduces the ascent of modern art in Shanghai at the end of the 19th and start of the 20th century, showing what an impact French impressionism made on pre-communism Chinese painters. There’s also a decent selection of advertising and calendar art from the first half of the 20th century.

The animated scroll painting ‘Along the River During Qingming Festival’, the single most popular exhibit at the Expo,is also now on show.

See the Shanghai Film Animation Studio floor

An entire hall on the 41m floor is devoted to the Shanghai Film Animation Studio (main image), including videos and some of the cut-out characters used to produce them. 

The shorts and features are from the 1950s-1990s and include ‘Havoc in Heaven’, ‘The Pig Eats Watermelon’, and ‘Little Tadpoles Find Mother’. The floor also has kitschy ‘publicity posters’ such as Ha Qiangwen’s ‘Long Live the Country’ and the bizarre ‘Celebrate the Successful Explosion of China’s First Atom Bomb’(pictured left), rendered in a traditional ink style.

Don't miss the touring exhibitions

The 33m floor has some fantastic visiting exhibitions – with rooms currently stocked by The British Museum (London), the Rijksmuseum (Amsterdam), Maisons de Victor Hugo (Paris), the Whitney (New York), and Te Papa (Wellington), as well as a really surprising and wonderful solo exhibition by Mexico’s Javier Marín, who sculpts figures in polyester, resin and bronze.

Here, you’ll find David Hockney’s ‘Jim’s Drawing’, Vermeer’s ‘Woman In Blue Reading a Letter’, Rodin’s sculpture of Victor Hugo, Warhol’s ‘Elvis 2 Tones’ Basquiat’s ‘LNAPRK’(pictured left), Alex Katz ‘Eli’, Jasper Johns’ ‘0 Through 9’, Roy Lichtenstein’s ‘Girl in Window’ and pieces from the Kiwi canon by Michael Parakowhai, Ralph Hotere and Gordon Walters.

Blitz the lower floors

From the 33m floor, escalators take you all the way down to the ground. Many of the works of neo-socialist realism here are recent commissions commemorating historical events, including the anti-Japanese ‘Battle of Shanghai’ (2011), and the anti-British ‘Winter in 1843, Shanghai’ (2012), plus contemporary non-events like China’s conquest of Mount Everest (pictured left) and the launch of the Shanghai Maglev. The Mao-era propaganda on the upper floors is kitsch, but these works are as depressing as the equally cynical propaganda movies, The Founding of a Republic (2009) and The Founding of a Party (2011).

The 0m and 5m floors also present a pretty depressing collection of old masters who pretty much missed the Modernist boat, some moderately amusing ‘San Mao’ cartoons and some ‘Chinese ethnic art’. Instead of art created by ethnic minorities in their traditional styles, though, these are mostly Han Chinese oil paintings of Chinese minorities – Orientalist art from the Orient. There’s also a library in the basement, which has a fair selection of interesting art books between all the Christies and Sotheby’s catalogues.

There are annoying ‘no water bottle’ and ‘no photography’ policies, and an almost intolerable level of smug propaganda – the international exhibits are collectively titled ‘Congratulations from the World’ – but there’s still plenty of good work to see.

The China Art Palace World Expo Park, Pudong Lu, near Shangnan Lu.