Unique Chinese art trove boosts Hong Kong art hub dream

Tue Jun 12, 2012 9:35am EDT
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By James Pomfret

HONG KONG (Reuters) - One of the world's pre-eminent collections of Chinese contemporary art was bequeathed to Hong Kong on Tuesday by a Swiss collector, a move that could transform the city's troubled bid to realise a new, world class cultural and arts hub.

No ordinary collection and amassed over three decades by visionary Swiss businessman, Uli Sigg, 66, this definitive assemblage of some 1500 works spans China's watershed and tumultuous recent decades of modernization, and is conservatively estimated to be worth $167 million.

In a surprise move after years of hard negotiations with several cities around the world, Sigg chose to donate the bulk of his unique collection to an as-yet-unbuilt Hong Kong visual culture museum, Museum Plus (M+).

Emotional Hong Kong art administrators and leaders praised Sigg's "historically" significant art bequest, that would catalyze what has been a long-delayed and troubled dream to realise a leafy, 40-hectare cluster of modernist buildings, museums and theatres on the edge of Victoria harbor.

"It will enable us to strengthen our position as the cultural hub in Asia," said Stephen Lam, Hong Kong's chief secretary and number two official.

Long known as one of the world's most capitalist financial hubs on the south China coast, the former British colony has struggled to evolve a more vibrant and diversified arts scene to match its self-proclaimed stature as Asia's world city.

But as other major regions in Asia compete fiercely for higher-end cultural and arts based tourism including China, South Korea, Japan, Taiwan and Singapore, Sigg's endowment could help galvanize Hong Kong's current strengths which include a major art fair, as well as its booming art and wine auction markets, buoyed by a wave of mainland Chinese millionaires.

One major problem for Hong Kong, before Sigg's gift, had been a struggle to find quality artwork to fill the proposed cluster of museums, exhibitions and performance venues, particularly given the rapidly rising cost of Chinese artwork.   Continued...

Dr Uli Sigg of Switzerland poses in front of an art piece by Chinese artist Wang Keping created in 1979, of a wooden sculpture titled "Chain", in Hong Kong June 12, 2012. Sigg, the world's leading collector of Chinese contemporary art, on Tuesday donated 1,463 Chinese contemporary artworks, conservatively valued at HK$1.3 billion (US$167 million), to the permanent collection of M+, Hong Kong's future museum for visual culture at West Kowloon Cultural District to be opened in 2017. REUTERS/Bobby Yip