Great Criticism: Chanel
Everybody Connects to Everybody (detail)
Mask: Rainbow (detail)
Bloodline – Big Family No. 17 (detail)
1998.1.4 (detail)
Welcome the World Famous Brand (detail)
The Twelfth Month (detail)
From the Tiger’s Mouth (detail)
Standard Family
Warehouse No. 10 (left), Statement (right)
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Four decades of contemporary Chinese art, from 1970 to 2012

Happy to have fulfilled his mission, Uli Sigg, for whom the collection is named, said he felt “…a mix of exhaustion after a long march, and exuberance that finally we see it in a great presentation.”

Indeed, it has been a long journey for this preeminent art collection and its collector.

Uli Sigg

For Uli Sigg, the seed for his extensive collection of Chinese contemporary artworks began with his arrival in China in 1979.

Sigg arrived to create the first joint venture in China with the Swiss Company, Schindler Elevators. Being one of the first foreigners allowed to form a business joint venture between China and the outside world, he knew he had remarkable privileges to travel the country and engage with its people.

“I am very fortunate to have had the most intense interactions with Chinese individuals, culture and society through my diverse activities in China over thirty-three years,” said Sigg.

A New China Emerges

As China became more successful and an economic power, its people and its society became more self-confident and globally recognized. A new China emerged, and he gained first-hand knowledge and watched from a front-row seat the opening of the Chinese market and society to external influences.

Although he had observed the beginning developments of Chinese contemporary art when he first arrived, he only started actively collecting in the 1990s.

“I changed my focus from that of a private collector searching for works according to his personal taste to one an institution might have: attempting to mirror the art production of the experimental artists living in the PRC, along the timeline and across all media. I was interested in the works created in this unpredictable milieu and in the atmosphere of a nation in total transformation,” said Sigg.

Sigg recognised that art could be a way to learn more about China — that it was a resource and through its contemporary art was “a unique source of information of what concerns the Chinese people”.

Chinese Contemporary Art

As he collected, he became an avid promoter and expert. He and his collection of over 2,000 works became the preeminent source of information on the development of Chinese contemporary art.

When the M+ Museum started looking for donations to seed its collection, the directors knew that Uli Sigg had what they needed.

Dr Sigg Collection

Lars Nittve, former Executive Director of M+ said, “Dr Sigg built his collection as a museum might, focusing more on the historical moment than his personal taste. Consequently, his became the most well documented and widely presented, examined, and exhibited collection of Chinese contemporary art anywhere, with works drawn from it shown in important institutions around the world.”

In June 2012, an announcement was made that M+ museum received its founding collection through a monumental donation from Sigg of 1,463 works by 325 contemporary Chinese artists, in addition to the purchase of another forty-seven works.

In this extraordinary act of generosity, Uli Sigg made the M+ Museum the leading institution for contemporary Chinese art years before the opening of its building.

Comprehensive Chinese Art Collection

The collection was named the M+ Sigg Collection and is the most comprehensive known record of Chinese contemporary art. Yet, it is a work in progress, to be continued by M+, within the collection’s framework.

Sigg elaborated, “Every collection is a process materialized; it is a distillate of the collector’s vision, imagination, intuition, and passion, of research efforts, of the opportunities seized, of the resources made available, of hard work, and of the lack thereof. No collection can ever be complete, and this one is no exception. Artists are missing who deserve representation. Indeed, collecting has its constraints: financial means are finite, appropriate works may not be available at a given moment, etc.”

Best Collection of Chinese Contemporary Art

Having provided the foundational collection, the goal is to use it as a beacon for future acquisitions so that the M+ Museum “… will be the best collection of Chinese contemporary art in the world,” said Sigg.

Although the entire collection is priceless, monetarily, billions of dollars’ worth of Chinese contemporary art is on display. Chronicling the significant periods of the past four decades, the display of works is grouped into thematic influences such as political propaganda, consumerism, abstraction, and idealism.

Ai Weiwei, Yue Minjun, Zhang Xiaogang and Zeng Fanzhi

Amongst the works on show are those by the leading stars of Chinese contemporary art, including Ai Weiwei, Yue Minjun, Zhang Xiaogang and Zeng Fanzhi.

Geng Jianyi

Artworks showing the emergence of a new wave of art and the Avant-Garde are on display, such as The Second State by Geng Jianyi. These four oils on canvas paintings capture a face mid-laugh, expressing exuberance and symbolising the mood of the later 1980s.

M+ Sigg Collection

The M+ Sigg Collection provides a broad survey of the societal and cultural changes experienced by China during a significant period through the eyes of its artists. Through a visual record, these artists, as the sensitive barometers of societal nuances, show China’s efforts to modernise and the consequences and ramifications of these rapid changes.

Text & Photos Cammy Yiu