Uli Sigg: Commuter between two worlds

Ai Wei Wei calls him his “maker” – and now the life of art collector Uli Sigg is coming to the big screen. Theatre director and documentary film maker Michael Schindhelmfollowed the energetic Swiss for three years to make the film “The Chinese Lives of Uli Sigg”, described by Basler Zeitung as “an homage to an exceptional man”.

Active since the end of the 1970s as an outstanding collector and promoter of modern Chinese art, Sigg has become an intermediary between Europe and China. He first went to China as vice president of a joint venture run by the Swiss company Schindler. He took a close interest in the country as it began to embrace the market economy, and in 1995 even became Switzerland’s ambassador in Beijing. Uli Sigg has since built up the largest collection of contemporary Chinese art. He was an early promoter of artists who are now very well-known, including Ai Wei Wei, Zeng Fanzhi and Cao Fei, helping to bring their work to an international audience.

Uli Sigg as a promoter of young Chinese artists

“The Chinese lives of Uli Sigg” shows how important Sigg is in China’s contemporary art scene, with three generations of artists speaking in the film. Promoting young Chinese artists in particular has always been one of his passions. In 1997, for example, he initiated the Chinese Contemporary Art Award to recognise outstanding achievements by up-and-coming artists from China. The film also shows the importance of Sigg’s expertise not only in culture but also in politics and business.

The documentary film “The Chinese lives of Uli Sigg” is now showing in Swiss cinemas. It is also being screened as part of Art Basel Hong Kong on March 21, 2016 (at 16:30) at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre.

Controversial donation

Uli Sigg intends to part with around 1,500 of the 2,200 works in his collection in 2019. The paintings, sculptures and installations will find a new home at the Museum of Visual Culture M+ in Hong Kong. Sigg has said that the aim of the “M+ Sigg Collection” is to “inform people about the impressive breadth and depth of experimental Chinese Art, rather than concentrating on individual works or artists.”

Most of the works are being donated to the West Kowloon Cultural District. The value of this donation comes to US$ 163 million. Sigg is also selling 47 more works to Hong Kong for a total of US$ 22.7 million. This, and the fact that Sigg is giving the works to Hong Kong rather than mainland China has caused some controversy. However, he has countered his critics in interviews such as the one with Blouinartinfo International.

Sigg works also on show in Bern and Vienna

An initial selection of works from the M+ Sigg Collection can be seen in Hong Kong until April 5, 2016. Under the title “Chinese Whispers”, numerous works are also being shown by the Kunstmuseum in Bern until June 19, 2016. A selection will then be presented at the MAK in Vienna.

Tilmann Schaal As the editor of Perspectives, Tilmann Schaal is interested in everything that influences our lives and the future of wealth. He has worked in digital communications for more than 15 years and has been in charge of The Classic Car Trust’s news blog since 2012.

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