In 2021 during the COVID-19 pandemic, a new colossal museum opened in Shanghai on the banks of the Huangpu River at the feet of some of the tallest skyscrapers in the world—the Museum of Art Pudong (MAP).
The granite and glass-clad building was designed by Pritzker-winning architect Jean Nouvel and contains 40,000 square meters of gallery space over five floors.
MAP does not have a permanent collection but operates on a schedule of special exhibitions running throughout the year that bring together works from both domestic and international art scenes.
At the centre, spanning almost the entire height of the building is an installation by contemporary artist Xu Bing composed of 1,600 distorted metal characters attached to a conical vortex reflected in a mirror covering the floor. The calligraphy is made up of Latin charters combined into forms that resemble Chinese characters.
Most interesting was an exhibition of Op Art – short for optical art – on loan from the Tate. Emerging during the 1950s and 60s, many artists started to bring ideas from mathematics, scientific research and colour theory into their work. Simple lines, geometric shapes, and eye-popping colours were combined to create optical effects and illusions.
The building does a fantastic job of framing its surroundings, even managing to make the Oriental Pearl look a little less hideous.
The principal façade of the building includes two monumental 53-meter-long glass halls where the vista across the water to the Bund is reflected in a mirrored wall. At night this narrow space can be used as a light box to view installations from the outside.
The roof terrace also has a fantastic view where you can watch cargo boats slowly making their way down the river, that is if you dodge the couples having their wedding photos taken there…
Like many things in Shanghai, MAP is an ambitious project and impressive piece of architecture that aims to elevate the city on the world stage. Given current political tensions it’s unclear whether international cooperation will be so forthcoming or if they can attract enough visitors from home and abroad.