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Bob Dylan Plays Shanghai

By Karen Collias

The Shanghai Modern Art Museum was a former coal storage facility

The Shanghai Museum of Modern Art is only one of two museums worldwide to exhibit iconic musician Bob Dylan’s collection of music, paintings, and sculptures. The exhibition, Retrospectrum, which traveled to Shanghai from the Halcyon Gallery in London, is at the museum in Pudong until January 5, 2020.

Bob Dylan has created music and art for more than 60 years and he even won a Nobel Prize in Literature in 2016. There are more than 250 highlights at the Shanghai exhibit, including lyrics to some of Dylan’s most memorable songs, such as “The Times They Are a-Changin’,” “Blowin' in the Wind,” and “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door.”

When walking through the museum, it is possible to sit at a table in a Greenwich Village club, experience the countryside and cities Dylan saw in between stops on his many musical tours, and touch some of the sculptures.

"This is the first retrospective exhibition of Bob Dylan's visual artworks that takes place in Shanghai and China … we prefer to tell the story of the art. We hope to bring audiences in so that they can be part of the exhibition," said Derek Yu, director of the museum.

One of Dylan’s many sculptures, inspired by the Iron Range

Among the exhibits of music and lyrics are paintings in oil, acrylic, and watercolor, drawings in ink, pastel, and charcoal, and ironwork sculptures. The sculptures are particularly interesting as they highlight an aspect of Dylan’s creativity known to few. Dylan, born Robert Zimmerman in Hibbing, Minnesota, USA, grew up on Minnesota’s Mesabi (Iron) Range, watching the miners and listening to the trains taking iron ore to be processed into steel.

To understand Dylan’s focus on sculpture, it is essential to understand the role of the Mesabi Range in his childhood and upbringing. “… you could breathe it and smell it every day. And I’ve always worked with it in one form or another,” remembers Dylan.

“My dreams are made of iron and steel,” Bob Dylan, “Never Say Goodbye,” 1974

The sculptures, some of which have been commissioned by organizations in the United States, reveal a part of the musician little known to his fans and the general public. The sculptures are uniquely beautiful and the museum’s innovative and interactive presentations allow the visitor to touch and explore them.

A piece of an archway, a favorite theme, welded by Dylan

These ironwork sculptures, alongside the sights and sounds of Dylan’s unforgettable music, are a first in Asia. Don’t miss this exhibit!

The Shanghai Museum of Modern Art is located at 4777 Binjiang Lu in Pudong and is open Tuesday-Sunday, 10-6. Take Metro Line 4 to Tangqiao, use Exit 4 and walk along Pudian Lu to Puming Lu. Turn left onto Jiangbian Lu to the Museum. The walk takes about 20 minutes.

Photos ©Karen Collias

About the author:

Karen Collias is an international educational consultant who concentrates on creative solutions to challenging global issues such as equal access to education and social mobility. She currently lives in Shanghai with her husband, discovering China and Asia through travel and study. Karen is the founder of Knowledge Without Borders™, a website that explores ideas and innovations in human creativity to enhance educational experiences in the United States and throughout the world. Visit us at

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