BASEL, SWITZERLAND – Former Swiss ambassador to China Uli Sigg has donated his vast collection of contemporary Chinese art, valued at $170 million, to a future museum in Hong Kong, Art Basel co-director Marc Spiegel announced Tuesday 12 June.
The collection of nearly 1500 works, is known to be the most substantial of its kind in the world. It comprises works by Chinese artists which Sigg collected from the early 1980”s to the present day. Contemporary Chinese artists were allowed to start attending art school in 1979, following the Cultural Revolution.
The future visual arts museum in Hong Kong, the M+, is expected to open in 2017 and will have 60,000 square meters of exhibition space, approximately the size of the MOMA in New York, according to Magnus Renfrew, director of Art Basel Hong Kong, which itself begins next May. Lars Nittve, the former director of the Tate Modern, is spearheading the new project.
Renfrew said that an “art familiarization process” was due in Asia and people “need to see art in order to understand art and appreciate art”. He said that potential collectors in Asia currently have few opportunities to see major exhibitions, but “that is changing very rapidly”, particularly with the M+ project.
The art by outspoken artist Ai Weiwei was one of the main reasons that Sigg bequeathed his art to the Hong Kong museum and not to a mainland Chinese institution. Ai, who has criticized China’s stance on human rights, was held by Chinese authorities in 2011. Sigg, who sits on the board of media company Ringier, was concerned about freedom of expression issues affecting his collection in China.
M+ has agreed to pay $22.7 million for an additional 47 works from Sigg’s collection.