Swiss art collector Uli Sigg has donated HK$1.3 billion ($170 million) worth of contemporary Chinese art to a Hong Kong museum scheduled to open in 2017.
Uli Sigg is giving 1,463 works from his collection while the new M+ museum will pay approximately 22 million Swiss francs ($22.9 million) for an additional 47 works from the 1970s and 1980s, Lars Nittve, executive director of M+, said in a telephone interview last night.
The works will anchor the permanent collection of M+, a flagship modern art museum in the West Kowloon Cultural District.
“It is not so common to have a major collection in place before you have a building,” said Nittve, the founding director of the Tate Modern in London. “This is a major signal of trust.”
The Sigg collection comprises works by leading artists, among them Ai Weiwei, Zhang Xiaogang and Fang Lijun, Nittve said.
Sigg is deputy chairman of Zurich-based Ringier AG, and served as Swiss ambassador to China and North Korea from 1995 to 1998 and was also founding chairman of the Swiss-Chinese Chamber of Commerce, according to the Ringier website.
Sigg, 66, first visited Beijing in 1979 and helped establish the first Chinese joint venture with a western company in 1980 while working for Schindler Holding AG.
His collection is widely considered to be one of the most important and comprehensive representations of Chinese contemporary art.
“This is a collection of which it will be impossible to build an equal,” said Nittve, “because of the scarcity of works, and because they were collected so early and because of its scale and diversity.”
Sigg stipulated that the museum should buy some major works “to show its commitment to the collection,” Nittve said, saying that this was a common practice among museums when receiving major collections from donors. Sotheby’s has valued the collection, he said.
Nittve said that the museum would be starting a competition for the architectural design in August that includes the collection in the brief. “We are trying to build a museum from the inside out,” he said.
M+ will focus on 20th and 21st century art, design, architecture and the moving image. It plans to construct a space of about 60,000 square meters, the Western Kowloon District Authority said in a press release.