The M+ Sigg Collection: Chinese art from the 1970s to now, The Whitworth, Manchester

The Whitworth and M+ Sigg Collection have joined forces to devise a vibrant new show, designed to both highlight the Whitworth’s freshly completed spaces and to promote the core message of one of the world’s finest collections of Chinese art. The M+ Sigg Collection: Chinese art from the 1970s to now showcases the depth and diversity of Swiss collector Uli Sigg’s extraordinary assemblage of contemporary works, encompassing 80 pieces from four decades of fast-moving art.

Spanning the breath of 40 years, the collection is recognised as the largest and most elaborate of its kind. M+ Sigg’s collaboration with the Whitworth provides viewers in the UK with a final glance at the collection before it relocates to its new home in Hong Kong in 2019, where it will form the backbone of the new M+ museum for visual culture.

Drawing on key pieces by artists such as Ai Weiwei, Cao Fei and Zhang Peili, the exhibition charts the emergence of contemporary art in China, from early subversive works and events on Tiananmen Square in 1989 to the dynamic art scene of today.  It celebrates Sigg’s inspiring endeavours to document the experimental practices occurring in China and offers a unique, critical and comprehensive survey of works created in a nation undergoing a distinct and radical transformation.

The show features a selection of highlights including Zhang Huan’s Family Tree (2000), a photographic work that is the result of a single day’s performance where nine calligraphy painters took turns to write lyrics on the face of the artist; Weng Fen’s On the Wall (2002), which captures China in the throes of rapid urbanisation in a series of striking photographs of teenagers sitting on a wall, and Cao Fei’s emotive film Whose Utopia (2006) that presents the secret dreams of workers in a regimented light bulb factory.

Taking centre-stage in the gallery’s redeveloped interior is Ai Weiwei’s Still Life (1995-2000), which features a mass-display of thousands of Stone Age axe heads and an iconoclastic gesture designed to offset the value and importance of these ancient objects. Other artists represented in the exhibition include Chi Xiaoning, Feng Guodong, Geng Jianyi, Hai Bo, Huang Rui, Huang Yong Ping, Kan Xuan, Liang Yuanwei, Lin Yilin, Liu Heung-Shing Liu Wei, Song Dong, Wang Guangyi, Wang Jin, Wang Keping, Weng Fen, Xing Danwen, and more.

The M+ Sigg Collection: Chinese art from the 1970s, until 20 September, The Whitworth, The University of Manchester, Oxford Road, Manchester, M15 6ER.

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1. Weng Fen, On the Wall – Shenzhen (I), 2002, Courtesy the Whitworth.