Swiss Collector returns Collection of Contemporary Chinese Art to China

Daniel Urech - June 15, 2012

Everything about the Rita and Uli Sigg collection is unusual: The collector, the former chief of the first Chinese-foreign joint venture in the People’s Republic of China and former Swiss Ambassador to China; the collection, with 2200 works the largest assembly of contemporary Chinese art; the history of its genesis and its final destination in Hong Kong’s M+ museum, to be opened approximately five years from now.

Uli Sigg acquired much of the artwork from artists virtually unknown at the time, whom he motivated and supported not only with his purchases, but also with his advice and with the establishment of the Contemporary Chinese Art Award, during a period when Chinese art collectors tended to stick to traditional – predominantly calligraphic – art. In 2005, parts of the collection were shown for the very first time in Bern and Holderbank, Switzerland, with a representative catalog that has become a classic. Now Mr. Sigg wants to return the major portion of these treasures, carefully selected to provide a coherent story line, to the Chinese people. In Hong Kong, an important market for Asian art, and in the M+, the center piece of the city’s new West Kowloon Cultural District, where his collection will be a prime focus, he found the ideal new and permanent home.

To carry out what has been called the return of part of the World Cultural Heritage to its rightful place, the Swiss donor negotiated an intricate arrangement with the authorities, who will pay 22mn Swiss Francs for 47 pieces and receive the remaining 1416 – with an estimated value eight times the sum paid – for free. He will keep the collection on loan in Switzerland until it will move into the M+ where, from 2017 onwards, the new owners will at all times keep at least one third of the works on display to the public, notably to the more than 30 million annual visitors from the mainland. Uli Sigg himself will continue his love affair with Chinese art, collecting and engaging in a dialog on creativity with Chinese artists.

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