Best Shanghai art outside the galleries

Best Shanghai art outside the galleries

Good art isn’t just found on gallery walls: Some iconic pieces scattered throughout Shanghai’s bars are becoming scene staples

Hidden in the broad blandscape of dumb interior design and dull decor, a number of iconic pieces have made their way into Shanghai bars.

Keep an eye out for these incidental -- but awesome pieces -- of artwork around the city.

The Inflatable Arch

Shanghai art -- shanghai bars -- dada -- arch This artwork pulls double duty, providing a great visual as well as sound proofing Dada for its neighbors' benefit.Where: The lane outside Dada.
Why we like it: The interplay between the bright, bouncy-castle quality of the arch and the buckets of fish heads behind the neighboring restaurant.

The Dada Arch was designed by the bar’s manager, Brian Huang.

“I told him we needed to soundproof the area in front of the door, to keep the neighbors happy, and he came up with this giant inflatable red arch," says bar owner Michael Ohlsson. "It's cut perfectly to fit snugly into the space, which is slightly asymmetrical.”

The arch cost around RMB 1,200 on Taobao.

Dada, 115 Xingfu Lu, near Fahuazhen Lu 幸福路115号, 近法华镇路, +86 150 0018 2212

The Willy Shrine

Shanghai art -- shanghai bars -- el coctelThe religious experience at el Coctel extends to more than the bar’s cocktail creations.Where: Between the entrance and the bathrooms at el Coctel.
Why we like it: The polyglot cultural fluency with which the shrine combines religious and pop icons from Spain, Japan, China and elsewhere.

A working fireplace was originally planned for the spot where the Willy Shrine sits, but “It just didn’t work very well,” says bar manager Marty Campaign. Instead, red bulbs bought from Jing’an Temple light up the shrine’s sacred items, all of which are watched over by a Catholic portrait.

“It's the Virgin of Guadalupe from Mexico,” says owner Willy Trullás Moreno. “It was a present from the Consul General of Mexico in Shanghai.”

el Coctel, 2/F, 47 Yongfu Lu, near Fuxing Xi Lu 永福路47号, 近复兴西路, +86 21 6433 6511

“Mice”

Shanghai art -- shanghai bars -- glamour barOne of the few occasions a mouse will be welcome at Glamour Bar.Where: Up and down Glamour Bar’s wall, just to the left of the entrance.
Why we like it: How alive the mouse seems despite being just a green outline. It’s realistic, but not so realistic that people will drop their martinis.

The green laser rat that explores the back wall of Glamour Bar was created by German artist Stephan Reusse in 2006.

“We found it at SHContemporary, the first one, and it was love at first sight,” says Michelle Garnaut, Glamour Bar owner. "Customers have had a variety of reactions to it, including obsession, hate and love -- the whole gamut."

Reusse has continued to use technology in his art. In 2008 he used thermal imaging to shoot pictures of wolves in a forest at night.

Glamour Bar, 6/F, Five on the Bund, 20 Guangdong Lu, near Zhongshan Dong Yi Lu 广东路20号, 外滩五号6楼, 近中山东一路 +86 21 6329 3751 (after 5pm), +86 21 6350 9988 (work hours)

The coyote face

Shanghai art -- shanghai bars -- southern belleNot quite your traditional artwork, but the coyote face does add something to your trip to the Southern Belle "outhouse."Where: On the outside of the indoor "outhouse" at Southern Belle.
Why we like it: Taxidermy. Who doesn’t?

It’s perhaps a little gruesome with its jaw split open in a Glaswegian smile, but the coyote face arrived in China as a kindness.

“One of my customers brought it back for me from the United States,” says Southern Belle’s cigar-chewing owner, Sean Fitzgerald.

The venue’s most prominent artwork, the Southern Belle herself, was painted from an image on a website selling period costumes. The girl’s eyes were painted more narrow and her skin was darkened to make her ethnicity more ambiguous, according to Fitzgerald.

Southern Belle, 433 Changle Lu, near Xiangyang Bei Lu 长乐路433号, 近襄阳北路, +86 21 5403 3218, 139 1818 8520 (bookings)

Stencil Work

Shanghai art -- shanghai bars -- Dada graffitiMonsieur Arthur, aka Arthur Gallice alongside Dan Nguyen's newest Dada work.Where: The interior walls of Dada (other side of the inflatable arch).
Why we like it: Good, honest graphics that don’t try to trick you into liking them.

Dada scores a second mention for its graffiti, narrowly beating out those chalky, many-eyed bird beasts in the newly renovated Yuyintang.

The stencils along the left-hand wall by Dada's entrance were done by Monsieur Arthur, aka Arthur Gallice.

“I've known Arthur for a few years, and liked his video and installation works, but didn't realize he did stencils too,” says owner Michael Ohlsson. “I asked him if he knew someone who did, and a few days later he showed me this proposal and I thought it was perfect for Dada bar.”

Dada recently added a new graphic to the wall -- an ode to the 1980s, complete with triangle earrings and a keytar, by Dan Nguyen. Ohlsson says the artwork is a good fit for the bar.

“Some of it's sincere, some of it's silly, we like it that way,” he says.

Dada, 115 Xingfu Lu, near Fahuazhen Lu 幸福路115号, 近法华镇路, +86 150 0018 2212

Looking for more Shanghai art that's happily located outside local galleries, read on at "Art for the masses: Public art in Shanghai".
Sam Gaskin is an arts and culture journalist based in Shanghai.
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