Chinese Lives of Uli Sigg

I always tell him: it doesn’t matter how famous I become, he is the maker.


The Chinese Lives of Uli Sigg

Part of our Culture Vulture series. For more screenings and information, visit:
The Chinese Lives of Uli Sigg is a history of China’s recent opening to the West, and of the West’s embrace of Chinese contemporary art, through the eyes of Sigg and the artists he championed. Artists including Ai Weiwei, Cao Chong’en, Cao Fei, Gang Lijun, Feng Mengbo, Shao Fan, Wang Guangyi and Zeng Fanzhi are interviewed along with curators, diplomats, architects and business colleagues in this colorful documentary survey of contemporary Chinese art.

Art world sensation Ai Weiwei credits him with launching his international career. Renowned pianist Lang Lang describes him as a mentor to Chinese artists. Curator Victoria Lu believes that his taste and influence as a collector has been felt around the world. But when Swiss businessman Uli Sigg first went to China, art was far from his mind.

The year was 1979, and Sigg—working for the Schindler escalator and elevator company—was hoping to set up one of the first joint ventures between the Chinese government, seeking international investment in the post-Mao era, and a Western company. At the time, even the fanciest hotels had rats, boardrooms were so poorly heated you could see your breath, and the government still regulated hairstyles (five different kinds of perm allowed).

Uli Sigg is not a man who does things by halves. “My ego, my way” says a t-shirt he wears at one point in the film. When he took up rowing, he went to the world championships. When he negotiated a joint venture, he wanted to create a model for future partnerships. And when he became interested in Chinese art, he built a world-class personal collection.

Sigg championed the artists he admired, working tirelessly for their international recognition and to preserve their artwork as a record of China’s tumultuous and historic changes. Eventually, Sigg became the Swiss ambassador to China and a consultant on major Chinese art projects, including the construction of the Bird’s Nest stadium for the Olympic Games.

"Required viewing for contemporary-art fans. Here’s a definitive portrait not just of the soft-spoken collector who brought the likes of Ai Weiwei and Cao Fei to the world’s attention but of the birthing pains of post-Mao China.” —The Georgia Straight

"A surprising film! [Uses] the impenetrable Uli Sigg to show us the hidden side of a complex and mysterious country... An intimate yet delicately icy portrait of a character who nurtures mystery like a defense weapon.” —Cineuropa

Selected Film Festivals

2016 Locarno International Film Festival
2016 Vancouver International Film Festival
2016 International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam (IDFA)
2016 Milano Design Film Festival
2016 Rio Film Festival
2016 Beirut Art Film Festival
Art & Artists, Documentary, Culture Vulture
93 minutes
English, German, Mandarin
Michael Schindhelm
Marcel Hoehn
Ai Weiwei, Pierre de Meuron, Feng Mengbo, Marianne Heller, Jacques Herzog, Alexandra Munroe, Hans Ulrich Obrist, Erwin Schurtenberger, Shao Fan, Rita Sigg, Marc Spiegler, Wang Guangyi, Zeng Fanzhi
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