Beijing has a famously long history of being the epicentre of Chinese civilisation, particularly with her ascendance to the seat of power for almost 7 centuries and counting. This is a city that fiercely guards the richness of history that has made her the city it is today but intrinsically recognising the need to update herself to stay relevant in these frivolous times. That metaphorical tussle has resulted in a fascinating mélange of the contemporary (think 798 Art District or the occasional Chen Wenling sculpture co-existing with ancient architecture) and the past (think hutongs and the majestic Forbidden City). The tension between the tight grip of the ruling Communist Party which lords over its capital city and the increasing want for more Western-styled civil liberties of its people is also manifesting itself in interesting ways in Beijing that even the authoritative government cannot control. So don't just be an armchair judge/spectator and let us help you get involved in the awesome transition of Beijing.
wee black book : BEIJING EDITION
TOKYO WEE BLACK BOOK
ULLENS CENTRE OF CONTEMPORARY ART (UCCA)
UCCA is China’s leading independent institution of contemporary art. Founded in 2007 out of a commitment to bring Chinese contemporary art into global dialogue, it has since become a cultural landmark for Beijing, a conduit for international exchange, and an incubator for new talent. Located at the heart of the 798 Art District, it welcomes more than one million visitors a year. Originally known as the Ullens Center for Contemporary Art, UCCA underwent a major restructuring in 2017 and now operates as the UCCA Group, comprising two distinct entities: UCCA Foundation, a registered non-profit that organizes exhibitions and research, stages public programs, and undertakes community outreach; and UCCA Enterprises, a family of art-driven retail and educational ventures. UCCA’s work grows from its core belief that new art can change lives, broaden perspectives, and enrich the conversation between China and the world.
YUZ MUSEUM is a passion project of Budi Tek, who is renowned both as a collector and his pursuit to drive philanthropic causes within the arts. Occupying a former hangar in the West Bund area that is marvellously reimagined by Sou Fujimoto, this private museum represented a major milestone in Shanghai’s art museum scene when it opened in 2014 and is partially attributed to the revitalisation of the West Bund area, which is now also the setting of one of China’s most important art fairs, the West Bund Art & Design.
Lastly, FOSUN FOUNDATION employs the best in British design talent, the building that houses the Chinese conglomerate’s contemporary art platform is designed jointly by the venerable Foster + Partners and the excitingly prolific Heatherwick Studios. Programming. The Foundation is missioned to promote different forms of Chinese traditional culture too and encourages cultural and artistic dialogue on this front with the best institutions and individuals around the world. Converse away but definitely do not leave without visiting the rooftop which houses Japanese artist Tatsuo Miyajima’s permanent spatial installation, “Counter Sky Garden,” which is made up of of 300 LEDs with the numbers one to nine blinking simultaneously at different speeds.
ROCKBUND ART MUSEUM
Right from the beginning, the Rockbund Art Museum has big shoes to fill, taking over the building that once housed China’s first public museum. But under the brilliant architectural direction of David Chipperfield, who was commissioned with the restoration and conversion of this delectable 1932 Art Deco building as part of the larger Rockbund Project, this has now transformed into one of the most important contemporary art venues in Shanghai, pushing the envelope with projects with both news and established artists and curators, often crossing interdisciplinary lines to marry architecture, art and even dance.
Not to be outmatched by Beijing’s 798 Art District, Shanghai’s M50 Art Distrct holds its own with an eclectic community of contemporary artists, near the banks of Suzhou Creek, despite its smaller size. Apart from its name which references its address (50 Moganshan Road), there is nothing unimaginative about this warren of studios, galleries, cafés and boutiques in a set of defunct warehouses, primarily dealing with textiles back in its heyday, which now brimming with creativity of all forms and art installations that changes regularly. A good balance to the structured and institutionalized approach to art with our other recommendations above.
MR. & MRS. BUND
Come to Paul Pairet’s Ultraviolet to see the rulebook of gastronomy being ripped up in front of your eyes. This is a multisensory experience that goes beyond just food and only 10 lucky diners go on this ride at an undisclosed location each evening. Magma Design is behind the conception of other-worldly interiors to ensure the best sensory attack on the diners. Although expect a price tag that reflects its vast undertaking correspondingly. Watching the purse-strings or don’t have the patience for the 3-month waiting list (which is exactly something Bespokcracy is here for), then try Mr. & Mrs. Bund, another Pairet institution in Shanghai.
Jean-Georges represents the first wave of western star chefs banging on Shanghai’s doors more than a decade back, transporting his eponymous fine-dining concept from New York to Three on the Bund. Housed in a Neo-Renaissance-style building replete with a modernist makeover in 2016 by long-time collaborators Neri & Hu which saw the original gentlemen’s-club look being refashioned into an airy, cream-colored space, which embraces the building’s Beaux-Arts heritage, while window-side antique mirrors etched with quotes from French philosophers setting side by side with Shanghai’s skyline.
A gastro-lounge and an impossibly cool modern version of a speakeasy which frequents the Asia’s 50 Best Bars list, The Nest was instrumental in ushering in Shanghai’s cocktail revolution. Designer Andy Hall from MQ Studio incorporated a Scandinavian aesthetic into an expansive dining room that conjures a Mad Men–era loft, where suaveness and a constant martini in hand is non-negotiable. Chef Freddy Raoult’s innovative version of Northern European bites syncs perfectly with the surrounding aesthetics, but arguably, the inventive drinks are the stars discerning imbibers keep coming back for.
S N O O Z E
WATERHOUSE AT SOUTH BUND
Chinese architects Neri&Hu’s, one of China's most prominent forward-looking architectural voices, teams up with seasoned Singaporean boutique hotelier, Loh Lik Peng, to transform this derelict former Japanese army headquarters from the 1930s into a very boutique 19-key hotel that still retains glimmers of its working dock-industrial past. Neri&Hu’s also seamlessly provides its vision for the interiors, by magnificently blurring and inverting the public and the private, which presents a spatial language quite like no other. Combined with the clever integration of its environment perched right by the Huangpu River and offering unobstructed vistas of the famous Pudong skyline, it is almost like being in Shanghai but not actually being in Shanghai.
THE MIDDLE HOUSE
The House Collective from the Swire Group extends its authority in sleek and understated hospitality here in its third property, with interiors artfully executed by acclaimed architect and designer Piero Lissoni who drew inspiration from Shanghai’s rich culture and crafts heritage. The resulting design combines Lissoni’s signature material-driven approach with Shanghainese refinement for an aesthetic language that is soothing but also bold enough to be exciting. Some say this is textbook minimalistic design but that would be missing the finer details ingrained throughout the hotel including the vertically-set bamboo green tiles in the lobby that seeks to carve its path quite apart from the textbook rest.
THE PULI HOTEL AND SPA
Behind grey brick walls and nestled within lush Japanese-zen padicured greenery lies a sanctuary of calm unsurpassed in Shanghai. The luring into the hotel’s distinct mission of resetting you in an environment that leaves the hustle of city-dwelling far behind starts with your stepping into the carvenous lobby whchih has an immediate sense of elegant infiniteness. Then you are brought further into this peaceful world created jointly by the Australian firm of Layan Design Group and Indonesian firm Jaya & Associates, with a sumptuously seductive bar, a deeply sexy library, topped off by one of the cities most sought-after spa, run by Anantara. The luring never ceases in a quiet masterpiece like this one.