Uli Sigg's Gift Bolsters Hong Kong's M+ Museum Vision
By Miryam Rodriguez
On June 12, Swiss collector Uli Sigg announced he will donate the majority of his collection of Chinese contemporary art—believed to be the largest, most comprehensive in the world—to Hong Kong's M+ Museum of Visual Culture, which is earmarked to open its doors in 2017, in the West Kowloon Cultural District. Under a part-gift, part-purchase arrangement, 1,463 artworks from the Sigg Collection—conservatively valued by Sotheby’s at HKD 1.3 billion (USD 163 million)—will be donated, while M+ has agreed to purchase a further 47 works, for the sum of HKD 177 million (USD 22.8 million), a token aquisition meant to underscore the institution's commitment to the collection.
Sigg has long hoped to bring his collection back to Chinese audiences, a desire which resonates with M+ Museum’s mission to be a cultural platform for Hong Kong and for Asia. In a comment to ArtAsiaPacific, Sigg remarked: “Hong Kong is important because the Chinese artists can also communicate with their own public—more than 30 million mainland Chinese travel to Hong Kong per year, and M+ will be that one big thing beyond shopping!”
Sigg began collecting in the 1990s, apparently realizing that few individuals or institutions were forming a systematic document of the significant cultural production then underway in a rapidly changing China. Today, his collection comprises works by some 350 artists, including Mainland figures such as Ai Weiwei and Fang Lijun, as well as Hong Kong artists such as Lee Kit and Pak Sheung Chuen. Reflecting the development of Chinese art from the late-1970s avant-garde movement to the present, Sigg’s donation will become the cornerstone of M+ Museum’s collection of mid-20th to 21st century visual art. Upon opening, M+ has said it will allocate a minimum of 5,000 square meters—a quarter of the future museum’s exhibition space—to a three-year-long presentation of what is to be called the M+ Sigg Collection.
Sigg believes his donation is the utmost appreciation he can show to the many artists represented in his collection. In a press release, he elaborated: “This is my contribution: to enable these artists to have a space within M+ where they will communicate with an international audience, and where they will meet with a Chinese public. Having explored various opportunities, I am convinced that there is no better platform for my collection and for Chinese contemporary art than that which M+ can provide.”
Such a donation is a huge vote of confidence for the M+ Museum’s ambition of becoming a world-class museum to rival London’s Tate Modern and New York’s Museum of Modern Art. Furthermore, starting this year M+ will also be engaged with the annual Chinese Contemporary Art Awards, an initiative founded by Sigg in 1997, which continues to recognize and support Chinese artists and art critics.