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World's Highest Exhibition Has More Lows Than Highs

Jan 21, 2016 | 17:00 Thu
National Geographic: A New Age of Exploration is in the Shanghai World Financial Center and it seems like a big deal. Ads for the exhibition appear in every station from Jing'an Temple to Lujiazui, and they claim this is the first ever National Geographic exhibition in mainland China, although the Chinese National Geographic celebrated the brand's 125th anniversary at Takashimaya mall back in 2013. Tickets are either 180rmb or 250rmb, though the 250rmb ticket includes entry to the sightseeing platform up there. Is that amount of cash worth it for the world's highest exhibition ever?

So from Jan 1-Mar 1, a hundred iconic photographs dating back to 1888 are on display on the 94th floor of the WFC. Ticket prices for the exhibition are proportional to the height: 180rmb for the 94th floor, 180rmb for the 97th & 100th floors, or 250rmb for all three floors.

But here's the catch: the exhibition takes place mostly on the 94th floor. Too bad we found that out after purchasing the 250rmb tickets. They really made the pricing system as confusing as possible. After taking the 8 meters per second elevator up to the 100th floor, we met a bunch of young people gathered on the floor, some just playing on their phones, waiting for the Pearl Tower lights to turn on.

The eighteen-meter-long wall showcasing all the National Geographic covers since 1888 is indeed impressive, especially as the style transitions from old-school illustrations to stunning, state-of-the-art Photoshopped covers. Quite a few focus on The Rise of China.

Then there are 100 prints of classic photos divided into five themes: history, adventure, wildlife, culture and photography. Naturally, that includes iconic photos like Steve McCurry's "Afghan Girl" and "Stilt Fishermen", Frans Lanting's "Emperor Penguin Family" and "Ghost Trees at Down," and Maynard Owen Williams's Herat warehouse photo from 1931, just to name a few.

Photographs here are printed by Epson, and their quality is just okay. One or two of the prints had noticeable artifacts.

If you take a good look at every photo and description, you could probably spent like an hour up here, though it doesn't feel like it justifies the ticket price.

They also have an interactive video installation which simulates a 3,200-year-old California Redwood called "President." You can "climb" the tree by pointing to different parts, then take a closer look at a mosaic made of 126 photographs to understand a bit of this tree's history. All the descriptions and subtitles are in traditional Chinese.

The press release also claims this is the first time National Geographic is selling official merch in China. If you're are a die-hard fan, you probably want to get one of their 89rmb notebooks.

In the same area, three VR egg chairs offer simulations and explorations of eight cities, like Amsterdam and Paris. Those trips each cost 50rmb.

So, worth going? Not really, unless you're coincidentally planning on peeping the skyscrapers from the World Financial Center (good luck picking a clear day). You've got better ways to spend 180rmb, and better galleries to visit.


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