Zhao Bandi, China Lake C., 2015, Met dank aan de kunstenaar en de Sigg Collectie

A Chinese Journey: The Sigg Collection

23 February 2018

The world's leading collection of contemporary Chinese art on display at Het Noordbrabants Museum

Encompassing no fewer than 2,400 works by some 400 artists, collector Uli Sigg formed the leading collection of Chinese contemporary art in the world. In the major exhibition A Chinese Journey: The Sigg Collection, which runs from 17 March until 8 July 2018, Het Noordbrabants Museum is exhibiting fifty or so key pieces from this collection, created between 2004 and 2017. This will be the first time that such a vast selection from this world-famous collection has been on display in the Netherlands.

In A Chinese Journey, visitors are led on a voyage of discovery through China. The three key themes in the exhibition are tradition and spirituality, and the modern-day socio-political situation in China. The paintings, sculptures, photos and video installations on display offer an insight into how Chinese artists relate to their nation's past, present and future, and how this differs compared to western artists. It is that difference that also fascinate Swiss collector, Uli Sigg (born 1946 in Lucerne). For him, the predominant appeal of Chinese culture lies in an alternative view of reality. Sigg once explained this in an interview as follows: "It has been striking to me from the very first moment of my encounter with Chinese culture that to almost every question, the Chinese found a different answer. We can talk about the script, we can talk about the knives and forks or chopsticks – and so it goes on. It is the real other”.

Art collector, businessman and diplomat

In 1980 Uli Sigg established the first joint venture between China and a western company. He later became Swiss ambassador to China, North Korea and Mongolia from 1995-1998. So as to better comprehend the country and its culture, Sigg sought out Chinese artists. Upon realising that there was no one systematically collecting their art, he decided to do so himself. He strives for a collection that is not defined by personal taste, but is instead a reflection of the full spectrum of contemporary Chinese art dating from the late 1970s to the present day.

Key figure in Chinese art

Thanks to his close contacts with artists, Sigg occupies a key role within the Chinese art scene. Artist Ai Weiwei says his participation in the 1999 Biennale in Venice is thanks to him: “I do not know how he introduced me to those people, but as a result I got into those shows, and the result was pretty good, you know? So I always tell him, it doesn’t matter how famous I become, he (Sigg) is the maker." In 2012, Sigg donated 1,453 art pieces and sold 47 pieces from the collection to the M+ Museum for Visual Arts in Hong Kong, positioning it to be the world’s top museum for contemporary Chinese art. The new museum, due to open in 2019, was designed by Herzog & de Meuron. As such, the collection will be returning to China; an emphatic wish of Sigg's, who describes his collection as 'a document'.

Surprise encounter

A Chinese Journey guides viewers along formidable pieces that not only impress due to their scope and material but also due to their meaning. Take for instance He Xiangyu’s metres-long tank, which conjures up memories of tanks during the student protests of 1989. The tank is made of 400 pieces of the finest Italian leather normally used by luxury brands as Gucci and Louis Vuitton. The sculpture Don’t Touch! by Liu Wei depicts the sacred city of Lhasa, the traditional capital of Tibet. This piece, measuring 4.5 metres wide, is made entirely from dried cowhide - the same material used to make dog chews. Also included in the exhibition are pieces by Chinese artists who have made a name for themselves in the West, such as Ai Weiwei and Shao Fan. But most of the artists are as yet unknown in the Netherlands. The artists' works are testament to the wealth and breadth of Chinese contemporary art: indeed, this exhibition offers just a glimpse of the whole. This is perfectly aligned with Het Noordbrabants Museum's aspiration to surprise, with artists who are yet or seldom to be seen in the Netherlands.

Developments in contemporary art

Unlike Western contemporary art, Chinese contemporary art knows no succession of artistic movements. Following the death of Mao and the end of the Cultural Revolution in 1976, contemporary Chinese art saw a huge transformation. Artists eagerly embraced the modern, contemporary western artistic movements that remained unfamiliar to them until then. A new generation of artists arose after the turn of the century. This exhibition shows pieces dating from 2004 to the present day. It is interesting to note that, despite their international careers, these artists remain attached to China's rich cultural heritage.

Catalogue & Audio tour

The exhibition will be accompanied by a richly illustrated catalogue entitled A Chinese Journey: The Sigg Collection. As well as concise explanatory notes on a large part of the pieces on display, an essay by expert Svetlana Kharchenkova offers insight into the evolution of the Chinese contemporary art market since the late 1970s. Published by WBOOKS, 146 pages in Dutch and English. The publication will be available at the MuseumShop and bookstores from 17 March next, priced at € 24.95. An audio tour in Dutch and English has been produced to accompany the exhibition and is available for €2.50 at the ticket desk, or can be downloaded for free from the ‘Podcatcher audio guide’ app on the Appstore or Google Play.

The exhibition A Chinese Journey. The Sigg Collection is sponsored by the BankGiro Loterij.

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