Remarkable collectors & philanthropists: Uli Sigg - Art Collector

Issue 63, January - March 2013

This profile appeared in the Remarkable collectors & philanthropists feature, part of the annual special issue 50 Things Collectors Need to Know 2013.

Uli Sigg with Ai Weiwei’s sculpture Newspaper reader, 2004. Fibreglass and mixed media, 108.8 x 58 x 72cm. M+ Sigg Collection. Photo: Paul Green. Courtesy: the artist, Sherman Contemporary Art Foundation, Sydney and NPG, Canberra

Uli Sigg’s name may well become synonymous with the reinvention of Hong Kong as a cultural tourist destination. Sigg, a Swiss national and former ambassador to China, has donated 1,500 works from his collection of contemporary Chinese art to the new Visual Culture Museum, or M+ as it is known, that is planned for the heart of the Kowloon district. The museum is also paying him $22 million for 47 other works.

The 66-year-old businessman, who first came to Beijing in the 1980s as a representative of the Swiss engineering giant The Schindler Group to set up the first joint venture between China and the West, has spent nearly three decades acquiring artworks. He is said to be the only collector who has followed the development of Chinese contemporary art since its inception. Although there hasn’t been any public documentation detailing the legendary collection, it is thought to be worth at least $158 million and spans paintings, videos, photography and installations and represents some of China’s leading contemporary artists such as Ding Yi, Gu Wenda, Liu Wei, Zhang Xiaogang, Wang Guangyi, Wang Keping and activist Ai Weiwei.

In 1998, Sigg established the Chinese Contemporary Art Award and is chairman of the jury. Respect for his knowledge has brought him international influence in the art world. He sits on the international council of the Museum of Modern Art in New York and the Tate Modern in London. Recently, a part of his collection was exhibited at the Sherman Contemporary Art Foundation in Sydney.

Sigg has said that his strategy when collecting has been “to put my personal taste in the background and collect like an institution ... I have been thinking of my collection as a web, not as a chain of pearls. It is a web where each work builds the context. Thus they form a coherent text. It is very different from just getting the masterpieces – which anyone with money can do.”

With this strategy in mind, it seems strange to start giving the collection away. But Sigg has one eye on posterity. The donation allows him to sit on the board of M+, select the architect, influence the design and concept of the museum and determine future acquisitions.

“Considering my age, I also need to find an optimal solution for this collection,” he has said. “If something happens to me, then what will happen with the collection?”

Amanda Woodard

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