press release

From 25 February 2020 to 30 August 2020

Facing the Collector. The Sigg Collection of Contemporary Art from China

The Castello di Rivoli Museum of Contemporary Art presents Facing the Collector: The Sigg Collection of Contemporary Art from China, the first exhibition in Italy of the important collection of Uli Sigg (Lucerne, 1946), recognised as the most important collection of contemporary Chinese art in the world. The exhibition is curated by Marcella Beccaria, Chief Curator and Curator of Collections.

The first entrepreneur to travel to China in 1979 for Schindler, following the declaration of the Open Door Policy, Uli Sigg developed economic relations and drew up the business model adopted by China, opening the door to investment and essentially contributing to invent Chinese model of state capitalism. Sigg was the creator of the first joint venture company between the People’s Republic of China and the West, and spent many years in China, where he intertwined relationships and friendships with numerous artists, identifying art as an extraordinary tool to better understand Chinese culture and life in depth. In a context initially devoid of cultural institutions dedicated to contemporary art, Sigg made collecting an opportunity for personal exploration. By frequenting artists’ studios assiduously, directly acquiring from them multiple works of art, while also assisting the emergence of private galleries which at the time did not exist, Sigg encouraged the creative paths of contemporary China.

The Sigg collection, which consists of around 2,500 works by over 500 artists, is not limited to the collector’s aesthetic taste alone, but reflects an encyclopedic vision that aims to document the evolution of Chinese art from the late 1970s to today.

After an initial period as an entrepreneur in China from 1979 to the early 1990s, Sigg returned there to serve as Swiss Ambassador to China, North Korea and Mongolia from 1995 to 1998. During this period, he thus played a fundamental role as a cultural ambassador, promoting the awareness of Chinese art in an international context. In 1997 he launched the Chinese Contemporary Art Award (CCAA): an annual award for contemporary Chinese artists who live in China and who, through the involvement of international directors and curators in the jury, contributed to the subsequent spread of Chinese art in many museums all over the world. Sigg’s relationship with Harald Szeemann played a pivotal role: the legendary curator was among the jurors of the first edition of the CCAA, after which he invited nineteen Chinese artists to the 1999 Venice Biennale, exhibiting their works in Europe for the first time. Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev’s service on the jury in 2012 was also connected to her inclusion of Chinese artists in dOCUMENTA(13) that same year, such as Song Dong’s Do nothing garden.

In 2012, Sigg decided to donate 1,450 works from his collection to the M+ Museum for Visual Arts in Hong Kong, which will be partially open to the public in December 2020, thereby returning an important part of recent cultural history to China.

The exhibition at Castello di Rivoli, which welcomes visitors with works installed in the building’s atrium, along the staircase of honor and in the galleries on the second floor, is developed in close contact with the collector and the artists and presents a precise selection from the Sigg Collection and M+ Sigg Collection. It documents some of the collection’s distinctive characters through a choice of thematic and monographic rooms. The first room appears as an “archive” in which some of the first works purchased and installed at Sigg’s home in Switzerland and some of the many portraits that the artists have dedicated to him over the years are on view. As testimony to the close friendships established by Sigg, the center of the room is occupied by the monumental Fragments(2005) by Ai Weiwei, one of the artists closest to him and present in the collection with numerous works, while the important work by Feng Mengbotestifies to Sigg’s contribution as the commissioner of new works.

Sigg’s attention to the profound social and political transformations that have gone through China in recent decades can be seen in several works on display, including those by Sun Yuan & Peng Yu, Liu Dingand Mao Tongqiang. Sigg’s interest in the rich cultural traditions of China and in comparing the aesthetic ideas of East and West can be found in the rooms respectively dedicated to Shao Fanand Liu Wei. A recurring theme in the history of Chinese art – the landscape – unites several works in the collection, from patterns that outline the new digital horizons of aaajiao, coming to include deeply spiritual notes as in the case of monochrome works, at the limit of the visible, by Qiu Shi Hua.

The exhibition also documents Sigg’s constant attention to younger generations and his openness to multiple artistic techniques. The new works by Miao Yingand He Xiangyu, specially commissioned by the collector for the spaces of the Castello di Rivoli, offer unprecedented and daring visions of today’s China and a reflection on the critical relationship between technology and society. “Thanks to my journey through art – says Sigg – I think I can say that I have seen more China than many Chinese. I collect, but rather than a collector, I prefer to call myself a researcher.”

Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev, Director of Castello di Rivoli Museum, comments: “This singular vision of a private collector who has made his collection public, and gifted it to M+ Museum Hong Kong, is particularly relevant to Castello di Rivoli now that it has incorporated the Cerruti Collection and Villa – a private collection recently made public in 2019. This exhibition of works from the Sigg Collection therefore forms part of a new important strand of the museum programming, looking at the relationship between private and public collections, and the need to render more domestic the experience of art and provide access to that kind of experience rather than neutralize art in traditionally impersonal museum containers. As the world braces and supports China’s efforts to contain a virus, we in the field of culture are doing our best to support maximum cultural exchange and sharing of ideas and viewpoints.”

On Monday 24 February at 5 pm, Uli Sigg and Ai Weiwei will be in conversation with Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev, Marcella Beccaria and Maurizio Molinari. The meeting will take place at the Castello di Rivoli Theater.