Skip to main content

Collector donates US$167.5M in art to Hong Kong museum

By Alexis Lai, CNN
updated 4:32 AM EDT, Wed June 13, 2012
Zeng Fanzhi's
Zeng Fanzhi's "Rainbow," an oil on canvas dated 1996, is one of 1,463 works donated by Uli Sigg to Hong Kong's M+ museum.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Most of world's premier Chinese contemporary art collection donated to Hong Kong museum
  • Valued at HK$1.3 billion (US$ 167.5 million), donation includes 1,463 artworks by 310 artists
  • Art comes from acclaimed collection of Uli Sigg, a former Swiss ambassador to China

Hong Kong (CNN) -- A huge trove of artwork from the world's premier collection of Chinese contemporary art has been donated to a new visual culture museum in Hong Kong.

The donation features 1,463 pieces of artwork by 310 artists, including many critically-acclaimed names such as Ai Weiwei, Fang Lijun, Zhang Xiaogang, Gu Wenda, Zeng Fanzhi, and Xu Bing, according to museum authorities.

Valued at a total of HK$1.3 billion (US$ 167.5 million) by auction house Sotheby's, the works stem from a celebrated private collection amassed over the past three decades by Uli Sigg, a former Swiss ambassador to China and a renowned art collector.

Sigg's collection is internationally acclaimed not only for being the world's largest trove of Chinese contemporary art, but also for its comprehensiveness and historical importance in documenting the development of contemporary art in China.

"The period 1979 - 2009 in China is a unique moment in art history. Given both the fact that many works, especially from the first ten years of this period were destroyed due to lack of interest from collectors and institutions, and the subsequent boom in the market for these works, it would be impossible to now build a collection similar in depth, scope and quality," Lars Nittve, the M+ museum's executive director, said in a statement.

"By joining forces with M+, the art works will ultimately come full circle back to China as I have always hoped they would," Sigg added. He said his donation is intended 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."

The donation, which will form part of M+'s permanent collection, provides a tremendous boost to the yet-as-unbuilt museum, which is intended to be the flagship facility in an ambitious government-led project to create a contemporary arts complex called the West Kowloon Cultural District. The high-profile project has experienced repeated delays, scrapped plans, high staff turnover, and many rounds of public consultations since its announcement in 1998.

Sigg's contribution is the "most important development to date for the West Kowloon project," said Claire Hsu, co-founder and executive director of Asia Art Archive. "It's extremely significant in the sense that it's an encyclopedic collection—he went about collecting it as if he was an institution as opposed to [assembling] a personal collection."

In a talk at the Asia Society in November, Nittve said he was discussing with major Asian art collectors the possibility of donations, given the museum had HK $1.7 billion in seed funding -- an amount that would not go far in purchasing top-notch Chinese contemporary art, which has shot up in price in recent years. A Zhang Xiaogang painting set an auction record of HK$ 79 million (US$ 10 million) for Chinese contemporary art in April 2011.

"It will be wonderful to have such an important collection in a public institution which can properly commit to its display and conservation for generations well beyond ours," said Yana Peel, a Hong-Kong-based contemporary arts philanthropist and founder of Outset Contemporary Arts Fund. Peel called Sigg's donation "transformational for the museum and for our community."

M+ has also acquired 47 works from Sigg's collection for HK$ 177 million (US$ 22.8 million) under a split gift-purchase agreement.

The museum is slated to open in 2017.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 7:13 AM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
A smuggler in Dandong, a Chinese border town near North Korea, tells CNN about the underground trade with North Korean soldiers
updated 2:54 AM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
Yenn Wong got quite a surprise one morning earlier this month when she found out an exact copy of her Hong Kong restaurant had opened in China.
updated 11:15 PM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
When I first came across a "virtual lover" service on e-commerce site Taobao, China's version of Amazon, I thought it was hype.
updated 9:15 AM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Each year Yi Jiefeng does what she can to stop China turning into a desert.
updated 10:54 AM EDT, Mon October 13, 2014
As its relationship with the West worsen, Russia is pivoting east in an attempt to secure business with China.
updated 10:29 PM EDT, Tue October 7, 2014
Aspiring Chinese comics performing in Shanghai's underground comedy scene hope to bring stand-up to the masses.
updated 12:54 PM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
Liu Wen is one of the world's highest-paid models and the first Chinese face to crack the top five in Forbes' annual list of top earners.
updated 7:44 AM EDT, Fri October 3, 2014
Cunning wolf? Working class hero? Or bland Beijing loyalist? C.Y. Leung was a relative unknown when he came to power in 2012.
updated 7:25 AM EDT, Thu October 2, 2014
 A man uses his smartphone on July 16, 2014 in Tokyo, Japan. Only 53.5% of Japanese owned smartphones in March, according to a white paper released by the Ministry of Communications on July 15, 2014. The survey of a thousand participants each from Japan, the U.S., Britain, France, South Korea and Singapore, demonstrated that Japan had the fewest rate of the six; Singapore had the highest at 93.1%, followed by South Korea at 88.7%, UK at 80%, and France at 71.6%, and U.S. at 69.6% in the U.S. On the other hand, Japan had the highest percentage of regular mobile phone owners with 28.7%. (Photo by Atsushi Tomura/Getty Images)
App hopes to help those seeking a way out of China's overstrained public health system.
updated 8:20 PM EDT, Thu October 2, 2014
Yards from pro-democracy protests, stands the Hong Kong garrison of the People's Liberation Army (PLA), China's armed forces.
updated 7:23 AM EDT, Thu October 2, 2014
The massive street rallies that have swept Hong Kong present a major dilemma for China's leadership.
updated 3:07 AM EDT, Sat September 27, 2014
Chinese wine drinkers need to develop a taste for the cheap stuff, not just premium red wines like Lafite.
updated 9:09 PM EDT, Tue September 23, 2014
The Dalai Lama, Tibet's spiritual leader, set off a media kerfuffle this month when he spoke about his next reincarnation.
updated 10:18 AM EDT, Sun September 28, 2014
He's one of the fieriest political activists in Hong Kong — he's been called an "extremist" by China's state-run media — and he's not old enough to drive.
updated 10:57 PM EDT, Mon September 22, 2014
China has no wine-making tradition but the country now uncorks more bottles of red than any other.
updated 5:29 AM EDT, Tue September 16, 2014
Christians in eastern China keep watch in Wenzhou, where authorities have demolished churches and removed crosses.
updated 1:38 AM EDT, Wed September 10, 2014
Home-grown hip-hop appeals to a younger generation but its popularity has not translated into record deals and profits for budding rap artists.
ADVERTISEMENT