WU GUANZHONG, Birch Woods at the Foot of the Changbai Mountains, 1991, ink and watercolor on paper, 68 × 138 cm. Courtesy Singapore Art Museum.

Singapore Art Museum Receives Major Gift From Chinese Painter


The renowned Chinese artist Wu Guanzhong has donated 113 artworks with an estimated value of SGD 66 million (USD 45 million) to the Singapore Art Museum (SAM). This gift marks the highest-value donation to any museum in Singapore.

The donation follows a similar gift of 66 important works made to the Shanghai Art Museum by the artist earlier this year. Shanghai Art Museum director Li Lei pledged to create a special exhibition hall for the artist’s paintings now in its collection.

Wu’s contribution to both museums was inspired by his trust in the two institutions 
to carry out continued research and exhibitions of the works to make them relevant to the future. SAM is currently planning a retrospective exhibition of his works for early 2009 and intends to collaborate with the Shanghai Art Museum.

Director of SAM, Kwok Kian Chow, commented, “Wu Guanzhong’s art practice displays his serious consideration of both formalism and the social grounding of art. This makes his work different from the Western value of ‘art for art’s sake,’ where art becomes a dimension of existence separate from the reality of life.”

The 89-year-old Wu is a painter, art educator and essayist who first gained recognition in the early 1980s. Wu’s open attitudes to Western art—developed during his studies at the École Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-arts in Paris in 1946—resulted in his dismissal from a teaching post at the Central Academy of Fine Arts in 1953. In 1970, during the Cultural Revolution, Wu was sentenced to hard labor on a farm in Hebei province. During that time, Wu became inspired by nature and completed a series of paintings of northern villages. He focused on the beauty of form as a new way to satisfy his artistic needs while gaining social and political approval. Today, Wu is regarded as one of the most serious upholders of formalist language among living artists in China.

The museum gifts from the artist are especially timely as Wu’s works are among the most expensive to purchase at auction and most museums in Asia remain sorely underfunded. In a June 2007 sale at Poly International Auction in Beijing, Ancient City of Jiaohe (1981), an abstracted landscape of interlocking forms, sold for RMB 37 million (USD 4.8 million).