Uli Sigg’s formidable collection at M + is a beacon of hope in a changing China, even if a particular work by Ai Weiwei is particularly absent


Works by Chinese artist-activist Ai Weiwei and items that may be considered politically sensitive are now on display at the highly anticipated M + Museum, which opens to the public in Hong Kong this week. But the mega-institution has a lot more to offer as it attempts to create an Asian-centric narrative of art and culture.

Open to the public on Friday, November 12, after nearly 14 years and several delays, the museum billed as Asia’s premier global institution dedicated to contemporary visual culture unveiled its full range of exhibitions on Thursday morning. first press.

Since the Hong Kong-focused exhibition and the design and architecture exhibition were unveiled in previous previews, what caught the most attention at this week’s media event has been the exhibition of the vast collection of contemporary Chinese art by Swiss collector Uli Sigg. It is seen as a litmus test for how much creative freedom remains under the National Security Act implemented last year.

Whitewash (1995-2000) Ai Weiwei. (Behind, from left to right). Everyone connects to everyone (1997) Yue Minjun. 1996.1B (1996) Fang Lijun. Mask: rainbow (1997) Zeng Fanzhi. Photo: Rachel Wong. “Width =” 1024 “height =” 575 “srcset =” https://news.artnet.com/app/news-upload/2021/11/IMG-5924-1024×575.jpg 1024w, https: //news.artnet.com/app/news-upload/2021/11/IMG-5924-300×168.jpg 300w, https://news.artnet.com/app/news-upload/2021/11/IMG-5924 -50×28.jpg 50w “sizes =” (max-width: 1024px) 100vw, 1024px “/>

M + Sigg Collection exhibition: (Front) Bleach (1995-2000) Ai Weiwei. (Behind, from left to right). Everyone connects to everyone (1997) Yue Minjun. 1996.1B (1996) Fang Lijun. Mask: Rainbow (1997) Zeng Fanzhi. Photo: Rachel Wong.

“We will maintain and encourage freedom of artistic expression and creativity,” said Henry Tang, chairman of the board of the West Kowloon Cultural District Authority, which manages the arts center where M + is located. “But artistic expression is not above the law. As a public museum, we have a responsibility to comply with the law and uphold the cultural norms of a society.

Tang noted that the museum exhibits the work of controversial artist Ai, but that they “don’t have this photo of the middle finger.” He referred Perspective Study: Tian’anmen from 1997, which depicts the dissident Chinese artist raising a middle finger in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square. Earlier this year, the photo was attacked by pro-Beijing politicians in the city who accused the job of “spreading hatred against China” under the new national security law.

Lin Tianmiao <i>Braided</i> (1998).  M + Sigg Collection, Hong Kong.  By donation © Lin Tianmiao.  Photo: Dan Leung.

Lin Tianmiao Braiding (1998). M + Sigg Collection, Hong Kong. By donation © Lin Tianmiao. Photo: Dan Leung.

A versatile vision of China

The absence of this famous image from the exhibition “M + Sigg Collection: From Revolution to Globalization” in no way detracts from the value of the exhibition, which is intended to be a chronological study of the evolution of contemporary Chinese art. 1970s to 2000s.

The exhibition drew on the 1,510 works of the M + Sigg collection which were largely donated by the Swiss mega-collector in 2012. Sigg had built up his encyclopedic collection of contemporary Chinese art during his years as a diplomat in China ( apart from the donation, 47 others were acquired by M + for 177 million Hong Kong dollars (22.7 million dollars)).

“We’ve been working on this for almost 10 years,” said Pi Li, Sigg’s senior curator for M +, during the media preview. “This show explains to you the development of Chinese artists step by step, how to understand the art of China and how to generate a new understanding of China.”

The exhibition features more than 200 objects on display in the Sigg Galleries, located on the second floor of the 700,000 square foot museum building designed by the Swiss architecture firm Herzog & de Meuron in collaboration with TFP Farrells and Arup. The Sigg exhibition features a number of rare art treasures alongside well-known paintings by contemporary Chinese art superstars such as Zeng Fanzhi, Zhang Xiaogang, Yue Minjun, and Fang Lijun.

Wang Xingwei New Beijing (2001), M + Sigg Collection exhibition.  Photo: Rachel Wong.

Wang xingwei New Beijing (2001), exhibition Collection M + Sigg. Photo: Rachel Wong.

Among the highlights is Fusuijing building, a small 1975 painting by Zhang Wei that reflects the lack of artistic freedom during the Cultural Revolution of the late 1960s, which ended just one year after the creation of the work.

Other notable works include Drama of the fusion of two cultural formats, a monumental ink on rice paper work by Gu Wenda from 1985. Brading by Lin Tianmiao from 1998 is a stunning large-scale installation by one of China’s most famous female artists that addresses the multi-layered texture of the world. Chinese history and contemporary society. Another eye-catching work is that of Wang Jinsong Standard Family (1996), a series of photographs capturing “standard families” as part of China’s one-child policy.

A blue-painted room is dedicated to documenting some of the most provocative performance art China has ever seen: the photography and video recording of To add a meter to an anonymous mountain, a 1995 nude performance by 10 artists from the Beijing East Village community formed in the early 1990s and conducted by Zhang Huan. A series of eight photographs by Ma Liuming from 1998, showing the naked artist on the Great Wall, is also on display.

"M + Sigg collection: from revolution to globalization" in the Sigg galleries.  Photo: Lok Cheng, M +.  Courtesy of M +, Hong Kong

“M + Sigg Collection: from revolution to globalization” in the Sigg galleries. Photo: Lok Cheng, M +. Courtesy of M +, Hong Kong

There are two works by Ai on display in the museum, Bleach (1995-2000), an installation made of old jars and the 10-hour video work Chang’an Boulevard (2004). And while his work in Tiananmen Square is notoriously absent, Wang Xingwei’s painting New Beijing (2001) is on display, slyly referring to the famous news image that shows injured students rushed to hospital in the back of a flatbed bicycle during the Tiananmen Square crackdown. in 1989. An annual vigil commemorating the event in Hong Kong and the group behind the event were forced to disband that year.

The museum also unveiled Antony Gormely’s extensive installation Asian field, which the British artist created with 300 villagers from Guangdong in five days in 2003. Although a total of 200,000 clay figurines have been made, only about half are on display due to space constraints. It took 23 helpers and 15 days to install the structure.

Antony Gormley: Asian Champ (2003).  Photo: Rachel Wong.

Antony Gormley: Asian Champ (2003). Photo: Rachel Wong.

The institution has taken a unique approach to advertising, observers noted. Rather than giving a wide range of press interviews, the museum invited a slew of social media influencers to snap happy photos ahead of Thursday’s preview. Journalists covering the preview were also barred from attending the opening ceremony attended by senior officials and were arranged to watch a live broadcast of the event in a separate room.

Despite the lack of international visitors due to Hong Kong’s strict travel restrictions, the museum expects more than one million visitors in the coming year, free of charge for the first 12 months after the opening of the institution.

Additional reporting by Rachel Wong.

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