The Power Station of Art is another must-see art museum in Shanghai – an old coal-fired plant converted into a 41,000 square metre contemporary art museum at a cost of US64 million. Unlike the city's raft of new privately-funded museums, the Power Station of Art is China's first state-funded art museum, allowing it to take on a wider brief, including hosting the Shanghai Biennale, which opens on 22 November.
Most of the museum is currently dedicated to an exhibition by Cai Guo-Qiang, one of China's most celebrated artists. The Ninth Wave is a spectacular show with a message reminding viewers of their relationship with an increasingly precarious environment and with nature, a connection that Cai views as being a casualty of China's economic miracle and becoming an industrial factory to the world.
The show kicked off with fireworks released from a barge on Huangpu River, which required temporary halting of boat traffic on the busy river, and begins in the main downstairs hall with the signature work in the show – a dilapidated Chinese fishing boat filled with sick animals – lions, wolves, camels, monkeys, gazelles, pandas and zebras.
On the second floor is a nearly 100 foot long panoramic painting The Bund Without Us,
depicting Shanghai's riverfront reclaimed by nature and rendered in his signature medium of gunpowder ignited on paper. Nearby is Head On
, an installation of 99 wolves leaping en masse into a glass wall, which takes viewers to one of the most spectacular works in the show – Silent Ink.
Cai excavated a large depression in the concrete floor of one of the upstairs spaces and filled it with thousands of gallons of black ink used for traditional calligraphy. An overhead nozzle shoots ink into the pool, which is surrounded by the concrete rubble and bent steel reinforcing, all piled up to take on the appearance of mountains in a classical landscape painting.
The show ends on a dark note in the former power plant's towering chimney stack, which once pumped toxic fumes into the atmosphere. Inside, Cai has installed Air of Heaven, a children's swing with three demented looking babies, silently swinging back and forth.
The Ninth Wave shows Cai's ability push the boundaries of political art in a culture where it can be a risky practice. And the Power Station of Art's commitment to contemporary art practice and working alongside artists like Cai Guo-Qiang places it in the lineup of Shanghai's must-see art museums.
Images: Cai Guo-Qiang's fireworks on the Huangpu River (top) and installation views of The Ninth Wave at the Power Station of Art