The Sigg Picture
As Hong Kong gets its first look at the M+ museum’s cornerstone collection of Chinese contemporary art, the donor, Uli Sigg, discusses his seminal archive with Chloe Street
decade before his death in 1899, English industrialist Henry Tate bequeathed his contemporary art collection to the nation along with money to build a gallery. This was the nucleus of what would become Tate Britain. Similarly, a bequest of modern art from US collector Lillie P Bliss in 1931 formed the foundation of New York’s Museum of Modern Art (Moma), which she also helped found. Just as Peggy Guggenheim’s purchases and home became the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, a modern art museum on the Grand Canal in Venice, and Catherine the Great’s acquisitions formed the State Hermitage in St Petersburg, nearly every world-class public art institution is born of an individual’s collection. So when, in 2012, Swiss collector Uli Sigg pledged the vast majority of his unparalleled collection of contemporary Chinese art to the M+ museum of visual culture, Hong Kong rejoiced.
Now, for the first time since the bequest was announced, Hongkongers are to get a glimpse of this cornerstone of the M+ collection. A pop-up exhibition at Quarry Bay’s Artistree gallery, M+ Sigg Collection: Four Decades of Chinese Contemporary Art, will display 80 key works. The show, the latest in a series of temporary events organised in the run-up to completion of construction of the museum in late 2017, has been curated to reflect the Sigg Collection’s telling not only of the evolution of contemporary Chinese art, but also of the incredible social and economic upheaval that followed the Cultural Revolution.
Businessman, former diplomat and arts patron Uli Sigg’s donation has given M+ a comprehensive foundation for its collection of Chinese contemporary art
The Sigg collection is universally recognised as the world’s largest and most comprehensive assemblage of Chinese contemporary art from the 1970s to the present. It comprises more than 1,500 works from 350 artists working in a range of formats and mediums, including painting, ink, sculpture, photography, video and installation. The 1,463 works donated by Sigg, as well as the 47 additional pieces purchased by M+ as a demonstration of its commitment to the collection (a common practice in such circumstances), have been valued by Sotheby’s at HK$1.3 billion.
So how did the visionary Swiss national come to own a more comprehensive body of Chinese contemporary art than any Chinese individual or institution? It all began when Sigg moved to Beijing from Switzerland in 1979 to negotiate, on behalf of lift manufacturer Schindler Group as its The second situation Geng Jianyi painted this set of four oils on canvas in 1987. The soundless, cynical laughter in these early, anti-authoritarian works is a critique of prevailing Confucian teachings emphasising stoic restraint above individual passion.