A view of the Shanghai skyline taken on the last night of my internship ©

Will Hine

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. 

Exterior view of Leo Xu Projects on Fuxing West Rd, Shanghai ©

Will Hine 

An exterior view of the spectacular ART021 fair, housed in the former Sino-Soviet friendship building, a resplendent example of the Stalinist neoclassical style.  ©

Will Hine 

One thing I did come to realise in some of my downtime, however, exploring the city and the art scene in more detail, is how the popularity of art is still a relatively new and burgeoning phenomenon.

Rather than being entrenched in society through centuries-old museums, as it often is in the West, in China it is largely being pioneered by a great deal of private wealth with vast status museums being built by individuals to house their personal collections to be shared with the public.

On an evening off, I attended the private view of the ART021 fair, to witness first hand the enormous number of worldwide galleries looking to lure Asian collectors, who have enormous spending power and a real interest in participating in the construction of contemporary art history with such private museums. On the other hand, however, there are also a great number of more unconventional galleries occupying unusual spaces, in traditional houses, apartments or basements, and as with China's business or technology sectors, innovation is key to their art market.

On one weekend, for instance, I happened to spot the work of an artist Cui Jie, represented by Leo Xu Projects, in the basement museum of a luxury mega-mall, amid an exhibition organised by one of the world's best known curator's based in London. This kind of collaboration and disruption of the perceived way of doing things is something China may come to lead the way in, making it a tremendously exciting country to intern in, not just in the art world but in any sector. It is an experience I would recommend wholeheartedly to others. 

To end here is to have barely scratched the surface, without a mention of the fantastic food, the trials and tribulations of attempting to speak Chinese, the eye-opening volunteer outreach day at a rural migrant school and all the other attractions Shanghai has to offer, from its nightlife to its historic sites. I'd urge you to apply so you might see all of these for yourself, to witness first hand the inspiring opportunities afforded by a Generation UK-China placement. Good luck!

Find out more about the opportunities available with Generation UK - China.