Collector donates Chinese art worth HK$1.3b to city

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 13 June, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 13 June, 2012, 12:00am


Hong Kong's freedom of expression influenced a Swiss collector's decision to hand Chinese artworks valued at HK$1.3 billion - including some by mainland dissident Ai Weiwei - to Hong Kong's future museum of contemporary art.

In a deal signed between Dr Uli Sigg and the West Kowloon Cultural District Authority yesterday, the veteran collector donated 1,463 Chinese contemporary works to the permanent collection of M+, which is due to open by 2017.

Dr Lars Nittve, executive director of M+, said Sigg's contribution would comprise a third of the museum's collection of about 4,000 pieces and would set the ball rolling for future acquisitions.

Sigg's collection includes work by 310 artists from the 1990s to the 2000s. Auctioneer Sotheby's has estimated their value at HK$1.3 billion.

In a part-gift, part-purchase agreement, Sigg also sold 47 Chinese contemporary artworks from the 1970s to the 1980s to M+ for HK$177 million. The purchase is the museum's first.

Sigg, who has been collecting Chinese contemporary artworks for three decades, said he chose to donate the collection to M+ because the museum would be in Hong Kong. The city, he said, was part of China but not subject to the same restrictions as the mainland.

'There is concern from [mainland] authorities of how China is represented in contemporary art. It may not be how they want to be perceived,' Sigg said yesterday.

He also said he had been in discussions with institutions across the border, and realised it would be impossible to show all the works without limitations.

Conversely, Hong Kong was a world-class city in China and would be the best platform to make Chinese contemporary art - yet to be represented properly in Asian museums - visible to the world, Sigg said.

'Chinese people need to see their own contemporary art which they don't know of yet,' Sigg said.

The collection has 26 pieces by Ai, who is required to report his daily movements to state security officials. They include an eight-hour video surrounding Chang'an Avenue in Beijing.

Other collection pieces include Zeng Fanzhi's colourful paintings featuring rich facial expressions and Zhang Xiaogang's renowned Bloodline Series, which drew inspiration from Mao-era family portraits.

Another highlight is a wooden sculpture made by Wang Keping in 1979, on which a hand covers the figure's mouth, implying it has been silenced. It caused a stir on the mainland at the time it was created, Sigg recalled.

Hong Kong artworks form only a small part of the collection, with half a dozen pieces by installation artist Lee Kit and visual artist Pak Sheung-chuen.

Oscar Ho Hing-kay, programme director of Chinese University's master of arts in cultural management, applauded the donation. 'Dr Sigg is a major collector of Chinese contemporary art,' he said. 'This is good news for M+, which will rely much on donations.' But 'it's important to have a balance of local artists and mainland artworks', Ho said in urging the inclusion of local artworks.