Catching Up with Uli Sigg, One of the World’s Most Renowned Collectors of Chinese Art
On the second day of Art Stage Singapore, I met with Dr. Uli Sigg—one of the biggest collectors of Chinese art—to compare notes. Dr. Sigg, former Swiss ambassador to China from 1995-1998, began collecting Chinese art before any other collector or curator took note. Twenty years later, he is credited for having had the foresight to amass a collection of the most important works by Chinese artists. Most recently, he donated close to 1,500 works from his collection to M+ in Hong Kong. Given that he’s a stalwart of Art Stage, I took the opportunity to ask him about his impressions of this year’s fair.
Amelia Abdullahsani-Gerick: Having attended all but one edition, how do you think Art Stage has grown in the past five years?
Uli Sigg: It has become ever more sophisticated. The fair has definitely matured. Not surprising, as they are seasoned people who know how to do a fair. However, that is not enough. The galleries must also mature with the fair, and they have become more sophisticated over the years. The gallery scene in Southeast Asia is new, so the galleries are learning from the beginning. They learn how to choose the best artists that are in the region, how to present them, and how to work with them beyond merely selling their works. On every level, there is work to do. But I have seen clear improvement from year to year.
AAG: Which galleries do you feel have stepped up to the plate?
US: There are many. Don’t forget that the big name galleries don’t necessarily have the best work.
AAG: What do you like best about Art Stage—and, in particular, this year’s edition of the fair?
US: I come here to see Southeast Asian art. The better the fair represents Southeast Asian art, the more complete of a picture I can get, and the more attractive it is to me. I am aware of the limitations of a fair, and I know it is not the full picture. Art Stage Singapore provides me with a very good idea of what galleries are doing in Southeast Asia. With each year, I notice the galleries are not just focused on making sales. Some galleries are seriously trying to curate exhibitions. I find more of this than in previous years. The country presentations [the Platforms] are very informative, and I think they should give more space to those. I think the Southeast Asia Platform should definitely be encouraged.
AAG: Do you feel there are ways in which the fair could improve?
US: I noticed a trend towards two-dimensional works in this edition. In the past, there have been more edgy installations, but I understand that the galleries need to sell and that two-dimensional works or paintings sell better. We have to remember that the galleries need to succeed. It would be nice if the fair were to encourage more single-artist presentations and curate the booths to help understand the artist’s work.
AAG: As a long-time collector of Chinese art, how do you feel the fair ranks in terms of Chinese art. Is it a strong representation?
US: Yes, while there are a number of galleries that focus on Chinese art, they don’t have a full representation of galleries from China; they could add a few more. But I understand they are not Southeast Asia. I think Art Stage Singapore focuses a lot on Southeast Asia; that is their face, it is their niche, and that’s their identity.
AAG: Which works were you drawn to at the fair?
US: I haven’t bought anything yet, but I am considering a work by a Chinese artist. I am still talking to the gallery about it. In the past fairs, I have always bought works—Chinese art and, once, a work from a Taiwanese artist.
AAG: In addition to collecting, are you engaging with the fair in other ways?
US: Besides looking at Chinese art, there are a couple of events planned for this trip: there is a screening of Uli Sigg: China’s Art Missionary at the Singapore Art Museum, followed by a talk with the director Patricia Chen, and a talk organized in conjunction with the Swiss embassy, held at Art Stage Singapore itself.
AAG: While in Singapore, have you managed to see or attend any other events, outside of the fair, that are worth noting?
US: Considering I am only here for 72 hours, I am glad I was able to catch up with artists and critics over dinner. I also managed to visit the Singapore Art Museum.
AAG: Any parting words?
US: I must seriously complain about the lack of an espresso machine in the entire fair! It is impossible to get a good coffee anywhere at the fair! It’s important. I think this can be remedied very easily.
Portrait courtesy of the Sigg Collection