The haze was thick on the sweltering morning when I decided to attempt this museum marathon. It was a perfect day for hopping from one air conditioned building to the next.
I began with a visit to the Shanghai Urban Planning Exhibition Center, where I quickly gathered that Beijing’s Planning Exhibition Hall (which I had visited the week before) was clearly the better of the two museums. Shanghai’s museum is older, and it shows. The architecture of the building is futuristic but uninspiring, and many of the displays were closed for repair and without English signs. The building was hot and had an unpleasant odor. As I sped through, I wondered if they are planning to spruce it up before the World Expo hits Shanghai in 2010?
Here are my photos of the urban planning museums in each city: Beijing and Shanghai. I give Beijing’s two thumbs up — it is a modern and stylish exhibit in a sleek contemporary building — definitely worth a visit. In contrast, Shanghai’s was an unimpressive disappointment.
Hoping that some artistic intervention would brighten my day, I headed next to the Shanghai Art Museum, located just a short walk around the corner:
I was treated to several interesting exhibits, including one that transported me back home for a short while. There were old Westerns playing on a movie screen, and walls full of bright Santa Fe colors. Out West: The Great American Landscape was a delightful collection of pieces by American West artists that has traveled throughout China as part of a cultural exchange organized by the Meridian International Center. It was comforting to find this warm connection to home:
Rejuvenated, I continued on, stopping briefly for a snack in the park, where I was approached by some of those “art students” I’d read about in the guidebooks. This young woman began chatting me up soon after I snapped this shot:
In both Beijing and Shanghai, tourists have been scammed by these “students” who attempt to get folks to visit art galleries or teahouses, where they are then swindled for money. I was approached by young Chinese couples (always a guy and a girl together) at least three times during my day roaming around People’s Square.
Since I was on to the scheme, after just a few minutes of talking to her, I gathered my belongings, politely excused myself and moved on. My next stop was the Museum of Contemporary Art:
But I pushed on, and often do when I’m on my own. I’d saved the largest museum for the afternoon, the one that all the guidebooks say is a must-see. There was some logical thinking behind why I had saved the Shanghai Museum for my last stop of the day…but that logic escapes me now!
There are plenty of other pockets of culture throughout the city (like the Shanghai Art Gallery or 50 Moganshan Lu), but the People’s Square of Culture is a central location with several good offerings — ideally laid out for travelers with limited time in the city. The museums’ close proximity to each other make it easy to visit several in one day.