Monthly Highlights
M+ receives world's best collection of Chinese contemporary art  
A hearty dialogue between donor Dr Uli Sigg and Dr Lars Nittve

The West Kowloon Cultural District Authority’s visual culture museum M+ made a significant step towards establishing itself as a world-class contemporary arts centre after it had received a donation by the world’s leading collector of Chinese contemporary art, Dr Uli Sigg, in June.

In one go, the future Hong Kong museum received 1,463 Chinese contemporary artworks from 350 artists, many of which are large-scale paintings or full room installations. The Sigg Collection, recognised as the largest, most comprehensive and most important collection in the world of Chinese contemporary art from the 1970s to the present, are estimated to be worth at least HK$1.3 billion.

On June 12th, Dr Uli Sigg (S) came to this city to announce the donation to M+ and he was grateful that these art works will ultimately come full circle back to China as he has always hoped they would. He had a 10 minute dialogue with M+ Executive Director Dr Lars Nittve (N), who is thrilled by his generous donation of the outstanding artworks to the permanent collection of M+.

WKCDA presented a painting “Composing a poem on Bamboo” by Hong Hao to Uli Sigg. From left: Ronald Arculli, Michael Lynch, Stephen Lam; Uli Sigg, Lars Nittve, Victor Lo.
N: How does it feel?

S: I started to feel generous after all these very kind words. But of course emotionally too. It is a privilege and a burden to own such a collection as you would experience yourself going forward.

N: How does it all start? You must be a very young man when you came to China in 1979. Did you start looking at Chinese contemporary art right away?

S: I had a deep interest in contemporary art already at that point in time. It was just natural to look around in my new environment and saw what artists were doing. I felt I need another insight in the Chinese reality but it turned out to be quite difficult to collect contemporary art at that time.

N: Chief Secretary mentioned the collection that you donated basically spanned the period of modernisation. I know you said earlier your interest was also a way to come to grasp in China.

S: That was very much the case. I started to feel I need more access to Chinese reality and through diplomatic and later my business experience, my ultimate object is China. Yes the access to contemporary art was maybe the most colourful, to say the least.

Dr Uli Sigg (right) and Dr Lars Nittve.
N: You started quite early time to start collecting as if you were an institution, not just your own taste. How does that come about?

S: Nobody -- individual or institution neither in China nor aboard -- was collecting Chinese contemporary art, except random buying. Once I realise this, I think this is a strange situation. This is the biggest cultural space in the world. In hindsight, it would prove to be the very important time in China but nobody paid attention to what contemporary art was doing.

N: You must spend enormous time in researching and visiting arts studio.

S: I did have a full work day. I was working hard while in China. But the good thing is artists get up late. Their work day normally starts when ours ends. My off time is reserved in arts when I mixed with artists.

N: You started China contemporary art awards – not just to artists but also every second year for art writers, critics. How did it link to collecting?

S: Something that today seems rather custom but in the 90s, Chinese art has not been known internationally. The gatekeeper in the global mainstream is all western people. How to make Chinese art find the place, in my view, that it deserves? This art award gives me opportunity to invite important people from international art community to come to China. Another motive is to encourage debate inside China. I realise there is little independent debate about art… not that I can resolve this issue, but at least pointed out where this issue is.

Sigg’s collection:
Geng Jianyi, Second State, 1987
N: You create this collection and you build it over time. When did you start thinking about actually giving away or losing it?

S: Very early on. Once I realise this document did not exist, I felt the future place ought to be in China. Later I had a discussion with western institutions in New York, London etc. Yes they all would be interested in such collection but I think the Chinese public ought to see their own contemporary art which they don’t really know yet.

N: Why M+? I almost blushed when I asked the question. But it has to be asked.

S: It is a world class city to begin with. It is also China. With M+, we build an institution and people I interact with – and of course you, Lars, gave me the impression the institution of world class would be build here. Through our interaction I gain the conviction that you are able to fulfill the inspiration. I see here is the best platform to make Chinese contemporary art visible to large public of Chinese.

N: Fantastic. That is a good final note. Thank you.