The opening of the M+ museum of visual culture in West Kowloon is not slated until way beyond 2017 but residents and visitors to Hong Kong will be able to view before then at least some of the art works donated to the museum by Uli Sigg.
The former Swiss ambassador to China and businessman gifted 1,463 pieces from his private collection of contemporary Chinese art to M+ in June 2012. The extraordinary donation is valued conservatively at US$163 million and forms part of Hong Kong’s effort to develop as a cultural, as well as financial, centre.
"I have been involved in Chinese contemporary art since I arrived in China 1979 to negotiate what later became the first foreign joint venture, and to learn more about China. However I only started to collect in the 90s, when I realised nobody was collecting Chinese contemporary art beyond making random purchases. That’s why I decided to create this documentation of Chinese contemporary art creation which would otherwise be lost," Sigg told FinanceAsia.
Curators are now set to install highlights of the Sigg Collection at ArtisTree in Taikoo Place, Quarry Bay. The exhibition will take place February 23 to April 5 and covers three distinct periods of development in Chinese art.
This unique collection includes historically significant works by China’s top artists, among them Zhang Xiaogang, Zhang Huan, Liu Wei, and Zeng Fanzhi. It would be impossible to build a collection similar in depth, scope, and quality today.
Comprising more than 80 works of various formats and mediums, including painting, ink art, sculpture, photography, video, and installation, the exhibition reflects the changing social and artistic upheaval of the last century in China.
"At first, I met artists through our common friends. And later on one artist would bring me to another artist and so on. In the late 90s I created the Chinese Contemporary Art Award which brought me in touch with even more artists. At one point the artists started to look for me instead," said Sigg to FinanceAsia.
Starting with the early underground activities of the No Name Group and Stars Group of the last years of the Cultural Revolution, it then tracks the 85 New Wave – such as the Pond Society, the Northern Art Group, and Xiamen Dada – up to the China Avant-Garde exhibition of 1989, and ends with the diversity of the post-Cold War era through to the pre-and post-Olympic period during which globalisation and China’s urbanisation accelerated.
“I was interested in the works created in this unpredictable milieu and in the atmosphere of a nation in total transformation,” Sigg said of his intention. “The M+ Sigg Collection invites a critical reflection on the short history of contemporary art in China and cultivates lucid insights into Chinese society in a historical period that in retrospect will be considered very important.”
For the novice collector the exhibition offers a short educational overview of styles and images, and the political and cultural changes wrought in China by contact with the West.