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Ghana pavilion curator Nana Oforiatta Ayim smiles during the 58th Biennale of Arts exhibition in Venice, Italy, 2019.
AP Photo/Antonio Calanni
Ghana pavilion curator Nana Oforiatta Ayim during the 58th Biennale of Arts exhibition in Venice, Italy, 2019.
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Is there art after China?

Uli Sigg, a Swiss businessman, arrived in China for the first time in the late 1970s. He had been sent by his company, Schindler Elevators, to set up shop in the country, which was fresh off the end of Mao Zedong’s rule and only starting to open up to the rest of the world.

Sigg had a fascination with art, and he was drawn toward China’s nascent contemporary art scene: with the cultural revolution just behind their backs, artists were searching for their language in a newfound freedom of expression.

It took a few years for Sigg to move from observation to acquisition. Specifically, it was when he served as Swiss ambassador to China and Mongolia between 1995 and 1998 that he began buying contemporary Chinese art. He did so systematically, not just picking up a few pieces he liked, but deliberately working toward a collection that documented the evolution of Chinese contemporary art in a way nobody else was doing. Sigg said in a documentary that he “absolutely wanted to find a new way into Chinese reality, and [he] imagined [he’d] get it from contemporary Chinese art.” 

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