US$ 163 million art donation to new Hong Kong Museum a massive boost for Chinese contemporary art

At a press conference at Art Basel, Swiss-born Dr. Uli Sigg announced the donation of 1463 artworks by 350 Chinese artists from his collection to M+, the future museum of visual culture opening in 2017 in Hong Kong. The Sigg collection is universally recognised as the largest, most comprehensive and most important collection worldwide of Chinese contemporary art from the 1970s to today.

Australians will get their own preview of this extraordinary gift a lot sooner this year in an exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery in Canberra. The show is titled Go Figure – Contemporary Chinese Portraiture from the Sigg Collection and will run from 12 September 2012 to 15 January 2013.

The collection comprises major works by leading artists, among them Ai Weiwei, Wang Guangyi, Xu Bing, Yue Minjun and many younger generation artists. Under a part gift / part purchase agreement, M+ acquired a further 47 works from Dr. Sigg’s collection for US$ 22.7 million, in a move similar to other international museum acquisitions, through which the recipient institution shows its commitment to the collection.  

Uli Sigg said he had realised in the 1990s that no-one was collecting Chinese contemporary art systematically, neither individuals nor institutions in China or internationally. He decided to change his approach and collect like an institution, that is to document the art production of China from the 1970s to today, along the timeline and across all media, rather than according to his personal taste as a private collector.

This has now resulted in one of the largest and most valuable donations of artwork ever made to a single museum, Michael Lynch explained. Australian Lynch is CEO of the West Kowloon Cultural District Authority, the body supervising the largest arts and cultural project in Hong Kong which will include 17 cultural venues and 30,000 square meters of space by 2020.

We suggested to Dr. Sigg that the market for Chinese contemporary art had largely been driven by Westerners such as himself. Would he believe that this collection now put on public display would influence mainland Chinese collectors who tend to focus on more traditional forms of Chinese art? He answered that the impact of the collection could be interpreted in various ways, and that one side effect of this could well be influencing collectors in their perceptions and purchasing.

And why is the donation going to Hong Kong rather than Bejing or Shanghai? Mainland China has still a rather strict and censorious approach to art, as the artist Ai Wei Wei is currently experiencing. Understandably, Dr Lars Nittve, the executive director of M+, is thrilled by this donation of an outstanding body of work to the permament collection of the yet to be built museum. He pointed out that this museum-quality collection was of global significance, as the period 1979-2009 in China was a unique moment in art history. It would now be impossible to build a collection similar in depth, scope and quality, as many works from the 1980s were destroyed (neither collectors nor institutions showed interested then), and the recent boom in Chinese contemporary art would have put them out of reach.     

500 works of the Sigg collection – or 30 % of the art shown – are slated to be on permanent display at the future M+.

Article originally published in the Australian Art Sales Digest


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Brigitte Banziger

Hello, my name is Brigitte Banziger and I am an art consultant and manager at Banziger Hulme Fine Art Consultants, Australia's art valuation and art advice experts. We offer comprehensive art valuation and art brokerage services (selling and buying art on behalf of clients). Our art services cover everything from valuations, art care and restoration, to general advice such as helping define the goals for your art purchase and work out the best strategy on how to achieve those goals, including where, how and and when to buy.

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