Shanghai Sculpture Park

Artist: Various
Location: Shanghai, China
Year of completion: 2003
Researcher: Leon Tan

Shanghai Sculpture Park is an 86.7-hectare park located in Sheshan, Songjiang District, West Shanghai. Founded by a Taiwanese entrepreneur, Rhy-Chang Tsao, the park is ambitious in scale and programming, incorporating over 80 commissioned sculptures from Chinese and international artists within four zones representing the four seasons: spring, summer, autumn and winter. The development of the park began in 2003, and has since expanded beyond the commissioning of public sculptures to include an artist residency program and a sculpture workshop for local and international participants.

The central lake in the park, surrounded by expanses of landscaped garden, might initially evoke associations with quietist traditions of nature contemplation, except for the fact that activities in the park include “water zorbing” (traveling in an inflatable ball across the water) and bouncing on the “Fuma Fuma” bouncy hill. The park is, in fact, a tourist attraction, and intentionally populist in its orientation. This context of reception creates an intriguing tension with the sculptures in the site, many of which may be considered extensions of one or another tendency in twentieth century modernism. The imprint of Constantin Brâncusi is detectable in the works of Maciej Fiszer and Robert Pierresstiger, for example, while Ye Hongxing’s piece might be fruitfully located alongside the post-minimalist and pop trajectories.

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The documentary images suggest that the commissioning program operated as an international survey of modernism, or rather, a comparative survey of different (but strangely similar) modernisms from around the world. The park is commendable at a formal level for the coherence of its sculptural program. Without direct access to the site, it is difficult to assess how the sculptures function within the broader context of touristic entertainment. It is, however, possible to say that the park succeeded in creating a distinctive place, attracting in excess of half-a-million visitors every year.

One of the park’s goals consists of “fostering a deeper understanding of the art of sculpture in a contemporary setting.” This is accomplished to some degree through the exposure of audiences to the commissioned works. It is also realized in the residency program and sculpture workshop, and through the Yuehu Museum of Art (on site) and its acquisition and exhibition of contemporary sculpture. Having said all that, it should be noted that the entry fee of RMB 120 is a little on the high side, possibly deterring access for many visitors. It is also unclear how different visitors experience the park. Is it experienced as a site for mass-consumption? Is it experienced as a site for aesthetic contemplation of experiments in form? In any case, it is less popular than Happy Valley Shanghai, the neighboring theme/amusement park. Other measures of the park’s success are the awards it won for China’s Outstanding Public Sculpture Project in 2007, 2008 and 2009. Presumably, the park sits well with Shanghai’s aspirations to become a world art capital on a par with Berlin, London, or New York.

All copyright belongs to Shanghai Academy of Fine Arts, Shanghai University.

Progress Agency