Uli Sigg, one of the first generation of Western collectors
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Uli Sigg, one of the leading owners of the world’s largest and most important collection of Chinese contemporary art, was among the first generation of Western collectors.
He came to China in 1979 as a representative of Schindler Co, one of the first major joint ventures. His first-hand knowledge of China led to his appointment as Swiss ambassador to China in the mid-1980s.
Sigg began his collection in 1985 and is said to be the only collector to have witnessed the development of Chinese contemporary art since its infancy.
He visited the studios of many Chinese artists around the country. For many of them, a visit by Sigg and his selection of their work almost became a special recognition of their status as contemporary artists.
Sigg’s collection contains the works of around 350 artists, including Ding Yi, Fang Lijun, Geng Jianyi, Gu Wenda, Huang Yongping, Liu Wei, Wang Guangyi, Xu Bing, Yang Shaobin, Yue Minjun, Yu Youhan, Zeng Fanzhi, Zhang Peili and Zhang Xiaogang.
Sigg has donated 1,400 art pieces and sold another five of his artworks to the M+ Museum, which is under construction in Hong Kong’s West Kowloon Cultural District. He says it will be the “perfect home for his collection.”
Q: How would you describe the contemporary art scene in China from 1995 to 2000?
A: Unique expression within global art, crazily creative.
Q: Do you feel any regret about missing out on some works during that period?
A: Of course. Every collector will miss out some works. You were not with the artist at the right time: You could not agree on a price or, worse, you did not recognize the importance of a piece. No collection on Earth can ever be complete.
Q: At a time when your personal preference might change an artist’s fate, what was the criteria for your selection?
A: I was considering if a specific work would have a place in a “document” as I used to call it in my mind: a document that mirrors the full spectra of the work of Chinese contemporary artists, that mirrors the issues that were of concern to the artists at that time — a document that is sadly missing in all Chinese institutions today.
Q: If you could have said something to yourself in 1995, what would you say?
A: Find someone to lend you 10 million yuan (US$1.5 million) a year: You could have bought up the whole art production of China at that time!