Truly Siggnificant

‘Mahjong: Chinese Contemporary Art from the Sigg Collection’ at the Peabody Essex Museum
By EVAN J. GARZA  |  February 4, 2009

Liu Wei, It Looks like a Landscape

Ten to 15 years ago, no one in the Western art world would have predicted that contemporary Asian art, specifically Chinese work, would not only dominate the market but also increase in value as rapidly as it has. Yet there were collectors out there who could see what was coming, and some of them were lucky enough to get out in front of it. Opening February 21 at the Peabody Essex Museum, "MAHJONG: CONTEMPORARY CHINESE ART FROM THE SIGG COLLECTION" represents what is widely considered one of the world's most important collections of contemporary Asian art. Uli Sigg, the Swiss ambassador to China and Korea in the 1980s and '90s, and a man recognized as a great patron of the arts in China, was able to engage several artists and purchase buttloads of work at rock-bottom prices. The result is a collection that showcases the artistic developments of the past 40 years.

China has a unique artistic tradition — primarily figurative, often favoring landscapes and cultural narrative — that dates back thousands of years. Tradition does, of course, play a huge role in Chinese culture as a whole. Over the past 40 years, however, the country has seen a significant political and economic change — "boom" might be more like it. In the wake of Mao and the Cultural Revolution, China has emerged as a new world power and has facilitated its own speedy Westernization. Chinese artists, long restricted by state requirements and censors, have achieved their own identity.

Uli Sigg has done much to make some Chinese artists famous — deservedly so, to judge by the caliber of work in the show. Included are paintings, photographs, sculpture, video, and installations by some of the biggest names in Chinese contemporary art. Ai Weiwei, who participated in the design of the Beijing National Stadium (the "Bird's Nest") with Herzog & de Meuron, will showcase his Han Dynasty Urn with Coca-Cola Logo and Whitewash, an installation of 56 Neolithic vases. Yue Minjun's trademark works feature several duplicate images of himself smiling — images that have made him among the highest-yielding contemporary Asian artists at international auction houses. Liu Wei, whose varied artmaking is quite multi-disciplinary, is here with It Looks like a Landscape, a digital black-and-white photograph of several arching backs and buttocks that collectively resemble a classic Chinese misty-mountain setting. The exhibition also offers work by Wang Guangyi, Fang Lijun, Weng Fen, Hong Lei, Huang Yan, and Zhang Xiaogang.

"MAHJONG: CONTEMPORARY CHINESE ART FROM THE SIGG COLLECTION" at East India Square, Salem | February 21–May 17 | 978.745.9500

Related: Great walls, Beauty and the East, Slideshow: Sigg Collection at Peabody Essex Museum, More more >
  Topics: Museum And Gallery , Culture and Lifestyle, Language and Linguistics, Visual Arts,  More more >
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