A new exhibition of Chinese contemporary art at ArtisTree in Hong Kong offers a unique perspective of one of the country’s most extraordinary periods of history, from the end of the Cultural Revolution until 2010.
The 80 works on show include painting, sculpture, installation and photography by 50 artists, and are largely drawn from a collection of 1,510 works that the Swiss collector Dr Uli Sigg donated to the M+ visual arts museum in 2012.
Sigg, 69, first visited China in 1979 as a businessman and returned between 1995 and 1999 as the Swiss ambassador to Beijing.
‘I realised no one was collecting the works to document what was happening so I decided to collect as an institution would. It was not about personal tastes or preferences but about mirroring the art produced,’ he explains.
It is this forethought that allows M+ the unique luxury of being treated to a concentrated overview of seminal works that mirror China's rapid change.
The exhibition is arranged in a chronological order starting with early important pieces like Fusuijing Building, 1975, a painting by the artist Zhang Wei, showing the view outside the artist’s studio (where the first secret exhibition by the No Name group was held), and Ma Desheng’s early graphic print works.
These works set the context for the more experimental period which followed, with more avant-garde pieces like Wang Guangyi’s Mao Zedong: Red Grid No 2 showing Mao behind red bars; Li Shan’s provocative Rouge-Flower; and Zeng Fanzhi’s Rainbow.
More recent highlights include Ai Weiwei’s Still Life installation of around 4,000 Stone Age axe-heads, reflecting China’s take on social history; and Beijing-based Liu Wei’s deceptively beguiling photographic piece depicting a traditional Chinese landscape using parts of his body as representations of the physical landscape, are distinct highlights. Video artist Cao Fei’s video Whose Utopia is another standout in an already stellar collection of works.
The captivating combination of works reveals a side of Chinese art with memorable clarity. ‘The collection is important because it reflects their reality and so contributes to our understanding of China today,’ says Sigg.