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Swiss collector to display Chinese art
From:chinadaily.com.cn  |  2016-02-02 14:28

Forest by Ni Youyu. Photos provided to China Daily

Swiss collector Uli Sigg will hold his largest display of contemporary Chinese art in Bern, Deng Zhangyu reports.

With the world's largest known collection of contemporary Chinese art in his possession, Swiss collector Uli Sigg is ready to hold his second comprehensive show since 2005, offering Western audiences an insight into China's art scene over the last decade. Sigg has collected more than 2,200 pieces of Chinese art.

The new show, Chinese Whispers, will be held from Feb 19 to June 19 at the Museum of Fine Arts Bern, the oldest art museum in Switzerland, and the Paul Klee art center, also in Bern. It will display 150 works of 71 Chinese contemporary artists from Sigg's collection. Sixty percent of this art was bequeathed four years ago to M+ Museum, an art museum that will open in Hong Kong in 2019.

Although Sigg has held several shows in the West on contemporary Chinese art, with particular focus on topics like shanshui (landscape ink painting), calligraphy, Cantonese artists and the artists of Shanghai, the new show in Bern is expected to be the largest ever display of his art holdings to date.

Mahjong, his first overview show in Bern in 2005, was so successful that the Museum of Fine Arts Bern, where it was held, said an exhibition of contemporary art with such an audience hadn't been witnessed there earlier, according to Sigg. That show was a first-time offering of Chinese contemporary art from a collector's view to an audience that wasn't familiar with it.

"Ten years later, they want to do another show to see what has changed in my collection. They're curious about the contemporary art scene in China after 2005," says Sigg, 69.

Eastward by Liu Wei.

As a Swiss ambassador to China in the 1990s and one of the early people to set up a joint venture between China and the West, Sigg began collecting contemporary Chinese art in the 1980s. He has since visited many studios, buying artworks that most people didn't know about.

As Sigg's collection grew, his name got bigger in China's art world.

Chinese Whispers, the title of the new show, given by curator Kathleen Buhler, stems from a children's game of passing messages from ear to ear. The words usually get distorted during the oral transmissions, and can be seen as a metaphor for Western viewership of contemporary Chinese art owing to cultural and historical differences, writes Buhler in a preface for the show.

But thanks to globalization, Chinese art is increasingly becoming an integral part of the world art scene. A major role in presenting Chinese art abroad has been played by artists, such as Liu Wei, Cao Fei and Fang Lijun, who were born in the 1960s and '70s. They have had some international exposure as well as art training in the West.

The show covers paintings, sculptures, installations and video works that were created by Chinese artists from 2005 to 2015, a period in which they became more confident of the Chinese cultural identity, says Liu Lili, director of Chinese Contemporary Art Award, the annual awards sponsored by Sigg since 1998.

Before 2005, contemporary Chinese art intrigued the West as some kind of "political pop art". With China's economy booming in the past decade, the country's art scene has also thrived.

Contemporary Chinese artists are more likely to infuse their works with essentials of Chinese philosophy and traditional culture, says Liu Lili.

Swiss collector Uli Sigg is showing his vast collection of contemporary Chinese art in the show, Chinese Whispers, in Bern.

"They've mastered an international art language to express themselves," she says.

"When Mahjong was held in 2005, Western art lovers saw it with the curiosity of viewing exotic art," she says, adding that it would be different with the upcoming show in Bern.

A friend of Sigg for long, Liu Lili says Sigg is the most diligent collector she has ever met. Even on a two-day trip to China, Sigg usually ends up visiting more than 20 studios and insists on meeting artists until the last minute before leaving the country.

Sigg has also followed individual artists for years and has collected their works as they evolved in their careers.

Instead of collecting based on his personal preferences, Sigg says he seeks to "document the history" of Chinese contemporary art.

He hopes to bring shows focussed on shanshui and calligraphy to China in the future.

The collector is also the subject of a film, titled The Chinese Lives of Uli Sigg, documenting his time with eight Chinese artists, including Zeng Fanzhi, Feng Mengbo and Cao. The film will be screened in Switzerland on Feb 9.

If you go

10 am-5 pm, daily except Mondays, Feb 19-June 19. Museum of Fine Arts Bern, Hodlerstrasse 12, 3000 Bern 7. +41-313-280-944.

Coming Back by Li Dafang.