Will spent two months in Shanghai having completed his MA at Courtauld Institute of Art in London.
To condense my two month internship in China as part of the Generation UK – China internship programme into one short article is no mean feat. I shall, however, do my best and hope to offer a brief insight into the experience of working at the heart of a vibrant and ever-changing nation.
Shanghai itself, the city in which my internship took place, is a remarkable, thriving metropolis, which soon enough felt like home.
Though it does in many ways fulfill the expectation one has in their head of a bustling Chinese city, with over spilling tube carriages, overcrowded pavements and hot, noisy restaurants, the pace of life was not nearly as daunting as I had expected, particularly in the former French Concession, in the West of the city where my internship took place.
Amid leafy side streets, hidden away down a traditional residential alley, I was working for an internationally renowned contemporary art gallery, Leo Xu Projects. Their three-storey lane house presents several exhibitions a year of both emerging and mid-career Chinese and international artists. It was an institution I could not have been happier to work for.
When I arrived in mid-October, it was all systems go. The gallery had recently appeared at art fairs in London and Paris, and was about to return home to open a brand new exhibition coinciding with their presence at two more art fairs in Shanghai. Fortunately, I found that my academic background and previous work experience had prepared me for the fast pace and unpredictable nature of work in a young commercial art gallery, but unlike the work I had done back in the UK, my time in China far exceeded expectations.
As the exhibition coincided with the ART021 and West Bund Art & Design fairs, along with the Shanghai Biennale, another huge event in the international art calendar, it appeared I had come to work at the gallery during the busiest week of the year for the Shanghai art world.
To my delight, this meant that I was given a great deal of responsibility, working very closely with the exhibiting artist Nina Canell, who'd been flown in from Berlin to install a new series of sculptures and installations. After this, I had to assist with the set up and opening of the exhibition, which was to be attended by dealers, collectors and curators from all over the world. No pressure or anything!
I'd like to say it went off without a hitch… but there were of course moments where juggling several tasks, trying to be in three places at once while not being able to communicate in Mandarin all proved to be quite challenging!
With that said, the opening, and the rest of the exhibition were a real success and a thoroughly enjoyable experience for me. I believe that my time at the gallery has prepared me for future work in London, and was by far the most rewarding and demanding internship or work experience I have had.
Fortunately, since the contemporary art world is a very internationalised scene, the skills are largely transferrable. From updating websites and databases, taking collectors around the show to explain works (in English thankfully!), liaising with artists, applying to fairs, corresponding with major museums and so on, the jobs I had should, I hope, stand me in good stead for any position in the arts almost anywhere in the world.