Collector and Patron of Chinese Art Killed in Attack
By Pamela Wong
A major European collector of contemporary Chinese art and the co-founder of the Ullens Center for Contemporary Art in Beijing, Myriam Ullens was shot dead outside of her home in Ohain village in Lasne, Belgium, on March 29. She was 70 years old. According to Belgium media reports, she and her husband, Guy Ullens, were attacked by her stepson Nicolas Ullens, who has now been detained by the police. Guy Ullens survived the shooting.
At around 10 am on March 29, Nicolas fired repeatedly at the couple in their car. Guy escaped harm, but Myriam died on the spot. While the reasons for the killing remain undetermined, there have been reports about ongoing disputes between Myriam and Nicolas over issues of inheritance. Nicolas is one of four children that Guy had with his first wife, Micheline Franckx, and he had previously served as a state security agent.
Myriam and Guy were married in 1999. Together they were influential figures in the contemporary art scene in China. An art collector since the 1960s, Guy developed an interest in traditional Chinese scroll paintings. In 1987, on a visit to China, he was exposed to the rising art scene in Beijing and he bought works by Ai Xuan and Wang Guangyi. In 1991, Guy acquired more canvases, by painters Fang Lijun and Liu Wei through Hong Kong gallerist Johnson Chang Tsong-zung, and the couple began collecting primarily contemporary artworks from China. In 2007, Myriam and Guy co-founded the Ullens Center for Contemporary Art in the 798 Arts District in Beijing, which was then considered the first contemporary art museum in China, to showcase their own collection of more than 1,500 artworks. Ten years later, a group of investors bought the Center and renamed it the UCCA Center for Contemporary Art. The couple continued their collecting activities under the Swiss-based Fondation Guy & Myriam Ullens.
Myriam, also known as Mimi, established a large educational program called Happy House Foundation in Kathmandu, Nepal, in 1993, which includes a mix of orphanages and intensive care units for malnourished infants. As a cancer survivor, she established a foundation in 2005 that supports cancer wards at eight large hospitals in western Europe. In 2009, she founded her own luxury fashion brand, Maison Ullens.
Pamela Wong is an associate editor of ArtAsiaPacific.