‘Chinese Whispers’ is a reflection of and on modern China. From 19 February until 19 June 2016, the joint exhibition by Kunstmuseum Bern and Zentrum Paul Klee in Bern showcases significant portions of Uli Sigg’s collection. Before the Swiss collector’s donation is transferred to Hong Kong, around 150 recent works from the Sigg and M+ Sigg Collections will be on public display in the Swiss capital city. This major exhibition will be accompanied by events such as a series of panel talks with guests including artist Ai Weiwei and architect Jacques Herzog. Both institutions will also present fascinating educational and further supporting programmes.
Contemporary Chinese art constitutes an unparalleled phenomenon. Art in China, unlike its western counterpart, which has evolved across a succession of artistic movements, experienced an upsurge in the 1908s, when the Chinese government began to relax some of its previously strict rules and regulations. Creating authentically Chinese art in terms of content, China’s artists rushed to embrace many modern and contemporary western art movements that had seemingly passed them by. Many of their works responded to then current political and social challenges. Since the turn of the millennium, a younger generation of artists has emerged, however, that not only has come to the very forefront of the global art scene, but is also deeply committed to China’s own rich cultural heritage.
In the context of contemporary art, an extremely close relationship has developed between China and Switzerland. The Swiss national Uli Sigg was the first collector to systematically build a collection of contemporary Chinese Art as from the late 1970s. Since then, it has grown into the world’s most significant compilation, a ‘document’ of more than 2,300 pieces to use Sigg’s own apt description.
Switzerland as a country, and Swiss curators and collectors have also played a mayor part in the western reception of contemporary Chinese art. In 1995, Sigg introduced Lucerne gallery owner Urs Meile to China. Meile went on to become a pioneering western dealer in contemporary Chinese art in China itself, organizing first exhibitions in Beijing and opening one of the very first international art galleries, designed by Ai Weiwei, in Beijing in 2005. And in 1996, another Swiss national Lorenz Helbling opened an art gallery in Shanghai. Back in Europe, legendary Swiss exhibition designer, Harald Szeemann, curated the Venice Biennale of 1999. It featured the first-ever presentation in the western world of a larger body of works by contemporary Chinese artists, and left the international art scene speechless with amazement.
2005 saw another milestone when ‘Mahjong’, a major exhibition of works from the Sigg Collection, was presented by Kunstmuseum Bern. Curated by Bernhard Fibicher in co-operation with Ai Weiwei, the show caused a sensation among the international art community. Ever since, and particularly in China, the exhibition catalogue has been considered the ‘Bible’ of contemporary Chinese art. Moreover, in co-operation with the Sigg Collection, Kunstmuseum Bern has gone on to showcase and promote contemporary Chinese art in a series of exhibitions called ‘Window on China’ (China-Fenster). A further waypoint in the reception of contemporary Chinese art, both in Switzerland and in the western world, was an exhibition at Kunstmuseum Luzern in 2011. ‘Shanshui – Poetry Without Sound? Landscape in Chinese Contemporary Art’ was curated by Peter Fischer, the current director of Zentrum Paul Klee, in co-operation with Ai Weiwei and Uli Sigg. Based on selected works from the Sigg Collection, ‘Shanshui’ was ground-breaking in its presentation of contemporary Chinese artists, and in its exploration of their relationships with their own cultural heritage.
Uli Sigg recently donated a large portion of his collection to the M+ Museum for visual culture in the West Kowloon Cultural District, Hong Kong, which is due to open in 2019. Prior to the departure of these significant works, the city of Bern is once again proud to provide a prominent platform for contemporary Chinese art. The participation of Zentrum Paul Klee alongside Kunstmuseum Bern has increased to more than 4,000m2, over 44,000sq ft, the gallery space available to showcase ‘Chinese Whispers’ with recent Chinese art.
Once more, three men have joined forces: Uli Sigg, the collector; Matthias Frehner, who was the director of Kunstmuseum Bern both in 2005 and currently; and Peter Fischer, formerly in Lucerne and the director of Zentrum Paul Klee since 2011. Their exhibition will probably be the last presentation in the western world of such a large portion of the Sigg Collection, which is due to be transferred to M+ in Hong Kong in 2019. Designed by Swiss architects Herzog & de Meuron, M+ is slated to become one of the world’s largest museums, with the M+ Sigg Collection as its ‘foundation stone’. In Bern, ‘Chinese Whispers’ will showcase a selection of works from the future M+ Sigg Collection, and pieces from Sigg’s still increasing personal collection.
The current exhibition has been curated by Kathleen Bühler, the curator of Contemporary Art at Kunstmuseum Bern. The exhibition catalogue was created in close co-operation with experts from M+ in Hong Kong. In 2017, a condensed version of ‘Chinese Whispers’ will travel to the prestigious MAK – Austrian Museum of Applied Arts / Contemporary Art, in Vienna. ‘Chinese Whispers’ is the first major joint project of the two Bernese art institutions since they were brought together in 2015 in the umbrella foundation, Dachstiftung Kunstmuseum Bern – Zentrum Paul Klee
Kunstmuseum Bern and Zentrum Paul Klee - Chinese Whispers Recent Art from the Sigg & M+ Sigg Collections - 19.02.2016 - 19.06.2016
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