Hong Kong the recipient of Chinese art collection

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Hong Kong the recipient of Chinese art collection

HONG KONG - No ordinary collection and amassed over three decades by visionary Swiss businessman Uli Sigg, 66, this definitive assemblage of some 1,500 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 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 bequest, saying it would catalyze a long-delayed and troubled dream to realize a leafy, 40-hectare cluster of modernist buildings, museums and theaters 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.

One major problem for Hong Kong, before Sigg’s gift, had been finding quality art to fill the proposed Museum Plus (M+) cluster, especially given the rapidly rising cost of Chinese art.

“It would be impossible to now build a collection similar in depth, scope and quality,” said Lars Nittve, a former Tate Modern director spearheading the M+ project who sees it becoming a “game-changing” art space with global appeal.

Sigg said his decision was motivated by a desire to freely showcase what has been called an “encyclopedic” collection of sometimes edgy and subversive artworks from 350 of China’s leading contemporary artists, including activist Ai Weiwei, in a city where freedom of expression is more fully enshrined than on the mainland.

“My expectation is that these limitations [in China] do not exist in this way in Hong Kong,” said Sigg. “To me it’s very important that a Chinese public can ultimately get access to these works.”

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