Highlights from Uli Sigg’s donation to the M+ museum in Hong Kong are on display in Manchester right n
Mr Sigg cultivated friendships with artists, but felt no inclination to buy their experiments with European forms. The Cynical Realism and Political Pop of the 1990s were more to his taste, but what prompted him to act was the fact that China’s big museums were ignoring contemporary art. With the mindset more of a historian than a collector, he set out to “document” art made in China after Mao Zedong’s death.
There were few guidelines. As Melissa Chiu, director of the Hirshhorn Museum in Washington, DC, recalls, in 1995 there were only five scholarly works on Chinese contemporary art in English. And for many Western curators China was still a far-off country. “The view was that art and culture were enshrined in the past—that Chinese art was ‘something ancient’,” says Edmund Capon, then head of the Art Gallery of New South Wales.
Another high-profile Western collector, Guy Ullens, set up the Ullens Centre for Contemporary Art (UCCA) in Beijing’s trendy 798 art district in 2007. “Sigg has recorded with almost philatelic precision the story of contemporary art in China over the past 40 years,” says Philip Tinari, the UCCA’s director. Young scholars are now, rightly, beginning to question the Sigg collection’s narrative, he says, but it is in broad accord with the perceptions of the artists, curators and critics involved. By contrast, Chinese officialdom prefers to “elide the distinction” between the 1949-1979 period and the years after, and make them “pieces of one big story about the rise of China”.
M+ is displaying its art around the world until its own premises are ready. This particular show brings to life the art-making of early radicals through film footage of the landmark 1979 exhibition by the Stars Group of Chinese artists. Zhang Xiaogang’s “Bloodline Series” (1998) is a poignant reminder that family photo albums were destroyed during the Cultural Revolution, and Wang Xingwei’s “New Beijing” (2001) lampoons China’s successful Olympic bid with a reworking of Liu Heung-Shing’s famous Tiananmen Square photo of wounded students.
Documenting history (The Economist)