We Checked Out Quirky Art Market, Shanghai Painter's Street

By Sophie Steiner, March 12, 2021

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Painter’s Street is a quirky art market situated on a 360-meter long alley off of Xuhui District’s Wending Lu, focusing on – as the name suggests – paintings. Some are one-of-a-kind, some are reproductions – but enough talent has existed to keep this cluster of shops open for nearly 20 years, even through street demolition, relocation, COVID-19 and, eventually, a move back into the original, now upgraded digs. 

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Background

In late 2017, the entire street – once an outdoor alley with doors flung open leading to art gallery-esque shops and showrooms – was demolished by the government, and the artists were moved to a warehouse-like factory building just next door. 

Inside it was cramped, dusty and downright confusing where one shop ended and another began. But it did the job for the time being, and allowed the artists to continue making a living. Many of them persisted in painting in the new location, maintaining a tie to the artists’ community.

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Then, in the summer of 2019, Painter’s Street was moved once again to 212 Wending Lu, a lane comprised of 20-30 new shops renovated by Shanghai Garment & DoBe We International Hub, forming a creative park of sorts. Here, instead of the flea market feel of Painter’s Street past, artists can claim their own space and spread out their work. 

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We’ve visited the M50 Art District off of Moganashan Lu and Beijing’s equivalent art district, 798, but we find ourselves gravitating back to Painter’s Street. Why? This artist hub is better curated and more approachable for visitors, whether the purpose is purchasing art or just window shopping.

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Before Painter’s Street existed, Shanghai Yongxin Raincoat Weaving & Dyeing Mill sat in its place. A display of sewing machines and balls of string cover an entire wall near the center of the street, reminding shoppers of the longstanding history of this location. Wander inside past the sewing machines display at a gallery called Industrial Change to find a second, narrow indoor ‘alley’ of smaller shops with even more art to look through. 

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Quick Facts

Art pieces vary widely in cost, based on the style you’re looking for, the talent of the artist and whether you prefer an original or a reproduction. We found most larger abstract art pieces (around .75 meters x 1 meter in size) to fall in the price range of RMB1,500-3,500, and negotiating is somewhat expected. Not fake market levels of negotiating, where you would aim to get the piece of art for 25% of the asking price, but you can probably get a bit knocked off the quoted selling price. 

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While walking around, you can easily spot trends, popular styles of art that are available in some shape or form at a few different shops, so make sure to peruse thoroughly before naming a price. Other original pieces of artwork can go for upwards of RMB80,000, so always ask before falling in love with a piece.

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Many of the artists come from around China, each specializing in a different style of work. Some paint Shanghai-centric scenery, drawing on inspiration from exploring the city. Others use alternative forms of media – twine, canvas or textured paper – to create distinctive 3-D pieces of art. As opposed to other high-end galleries, Painter’s Street is much more down to earth and accessible to those with minimal art knowledge.

Current Status

COVID-19 has definitely affected Painter’s Street, and while visitors before were nearly 50% foreign, now those numbers have dropped dramatically. While most of the tenants received two months of free rent during the height of the epidemic, this was only a band-aid over a bigger injury for many of these young, relatively unknown artists that display their work at the galleries. 

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Painter’s Street is essential for those creating a living out of their artworks, and if the galleries close, the artists will lose their jobs and be forced to return to their hometowns. To help ease the burden, the street has arranged art fairs every Saturday in the spring and summer. Artists gather to paint outside while designers sell clothing, fans, embroidery and jewelry. 

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To support these up-and-coming artists, and do some shopping of your own, visit Painter’s Street and experience this artist hub for yourself. Most of the shops open around 10-11am and close between 7-8pm daily. The entrances are lined up in a row, facing the center of the lane, so it’s easy to methodically visit as many as you’d like. 

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Each shop has its own feel – some are more gallery-like, while others focus on sculptures or bamboo wall art. Paintings range from traditional Chinese to modern abstract to surrealistic to graffiti to impressionistic. We even visited a space that dedicated the majority of the second floor to art creation for guests. Just pop in, pick up a paint palette and unleash your own inner-artist. Who knows, maybe you could be the next big thing to hit the Painter’s Street of the future. 


See a listing for Painter's Street.

For more Shanghai Day Trips, click here.

[Cover image by Sophie Steiner]

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