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Through an art collection is possible to understand many things about the owner personalities: the favourite historical period, main topics, tastes, obsessions, perversions and fears. Get inside to an important collection is like to snoop in a very intimate part of a person, as well when we are in front of a piece of art discovering the artist soul. 

In the last years there are more and more maecenas willing to expose their self yet giving more possibilities for the large public to see important master artworks. It is in fact not a huge secret that public spaces are not able to buy contemporary art because of the onerous prices, but many are working together with private collectors in order to create important synergies and intersting exhibitions. 

Read more about The recent history of the Chinese Contemporary Art Market!

A recent example is the MAK exhibition "CHINESE WHISPERS: Recent Art from the Sigg Collection" that presents a comprehensive picture of contemporary Chinese art and its aesthetic through the collection of Uli Sigg (* 1946). A business journalist, entrepreneur, and Swiss ambassador to China, North Korea, and Mongolia (1995–1998), Sigg had the chance to take a look behind the scenes of the enormous social and economic developments in China since the late 1970s. Sigg started putting together the world’s most representative collection of Chinese art by promoting several international careers such as Ai Weiwei’s and donating 1.510 works of his collection in the form of the M+ Sigg Collection to the newly founded M+ Museum for visual culture, part of the West Kowloon Cultural District, Hong Kong, which was designed by architects Herzog & de Meuron.


Ai Weiwei, Descending Light with A Missing Circle, 2017 © Ai Weiwei, Photo: Bruno Bühlmann, Foto Jung, Sursee/Switzerland

"CHINESE WHISPERS: Recent Art from the Sigg Collection" focuses on objects from Uli Sigg’s Swiss private collection and techniques such as calligraphy, painting, photography, sculpture, installation, and video, the presented objects open up a wide spectrum of works ranging from traditional analog to digital production. The title "CHINESE WHISPERS" refers to the eponymous children’s game in which messages are whispered secretly from one person to the next and distorted in content and meaning by the permanent repetition. This idea of reproduction and distortion can be seen as an ironic allusion to intercultural communication. The exhibition was already shown simultaneously at the Kunstmuseum Bern and the Zentrum Paul Klee under the same name in 2016 and was adapted for the presentation at the MAK in dialogue with Sigg. 

Don't miss our article about "5 Things you need to know about Chinese and Japanese landscape paintings"...


Shao Fan, No. 1, 2006 Acrylic and elmwood Sigg Collection, Switzerland © MAK/Georg Mayer

Chinese contemporary art is a phenomenon without parallel. Even after the Cultural Revolution, the effects of Socialist Realism and restrictions due to censorship remain noticeable. Nonetheless, contemporary art in China has experienced a drastic change of direction since the increasing political openness in the 1980s. In no time a new generation of Chinese artists picked up modern trends from the West. The contents can often be seen as a reaction towards the political and social situation of the time. In his painting "My Beautiful Life" (1993–1995), Wang Xingwei (* 1969), for example, chose an image composition referring to Edvard Munch’s icon-like painting "The Scream" (1893– 1910). Wang Xingwei contrasts the painter’s loneliness in Munch’s self-portrait with a contemplative portrait of a couple on a bridge whose gaze ebbs away in a landscape contrasted by set pieces of modern consumption and progress. As an example for exploring the cultural transfer between East and West, the work "The Death of Marat" (2011) by artist He Xiangyu (* 1986) can be seen in the exhibition. It shows a scene with Ai Weiwei and refers to the painting of the same title by Jacques- Louis David (1748–1825), an icon of the French Revolution. Xiangyu developed the idea for this work when Ai Weiwei was in prison in China and simultaneously Wen Jiabao (* 1942), Chinese Premier at the time, paid a state visit to Germany. 

The controversial role of the individual in a rapidly growing society and the boundaries between artistic, social, and political space can be experienced in quite a number of works in CHINESE WHISPERS. At the beginning of the 1950s, the term “New Man” was introduced by the communist regime in order to establish Marxism-Leninism and Maoism in society. The revolution, aimed at creating a new aesthetics by reconfiguring tradition and culture, is highlighted by Liu Ding (* 1976) in his collectively developed project also called "New Man" (2014). The aim wastothe wish to partake in a political vision to the individual. 

He Xiangyu, The Death of Marat, 2011 Fiberglass, silica gel Courtesy Sigg Collection © He Xiangyu, Photo: Yangwei Photo Studio 


Wang Xingwei, My Beautiful Life, 1993–1995 Oil on canvas Courtesy Sigg Collection © Wang Xingwei


In the MAK exhibition, the works from the Sigg Collection enter into a dialogue with historical objects from China from the MAK Asia Collection. Since its founding more than 150 years ago, the MAK has placed one of the focal points of the museum on Asian arts and crafts from China, Japan, and Korea. As early as around 1900, the museum was able to document the zeniths of Asian cultures. In 1907, a large part of the collection of the Trade Museum, which had been founded for economic-political reasons, went to today’s MAK. Comprising more than 25 000 objects, the MAK Asia Collection is one of the most important collections of Asian art in Europe, thus providing a broad discursive platform for the presentation of the Sigg Collection. In fascinating confrontations, the historic object turns into a vision machine for the contemporary. For example, Shen Shaomin (* 1956) with her sculpture "Bonsai No. 19" (2015) addresses the eponymous art form cultivated in China: interfering with a plant’s growth is comparable to the ritual of foot binding, a symbol of oppression leading to irreparable deformations in girls and women—illustrated in the exhibition by Colorful Chinese shoes for bound feet (19th century) from the MAK Permanent Collection. 

Cover images: Cao Fei, Whose Utopia, 2006 Video, 20 min. M+ Sigg Collection, Hong Kong, donation © MAK/Georg Mayer Pei Li - Five Stages of Grief, 2013 Video, 5 min. Sigg Collection, Switzerland © MAK/Georg Mayer. 


Stay Tuned on Kooness magazine for more exciting news from the art world.

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