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Ullens Center calms market speculation

By Chen Nan (China Daily)
Updated: 2011-03-01 07:30
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 Ullens Center calms market speculation

The Ullens Center for Contemporary Art is one of Beijing's leading non-profit, contemporary art centers. John Sun / for China Daily

 Ullens Center calms market speculation

Baron Guy Ullens at the opening of UCCA in 2007. Wu Zhiyi / China Daily

Reports that Baron Guy and Myriam Ullens of UCCA are withdrawing from the Chinese contemporary art market are wide of the mark. Chen Nan reports.

Sotheby's announcement that its April 3, 2011 sale in Hong Kong will include 106 artworks from the pioneering Chinese contemporary art collection assembled by the Belgian couple, Baron Guy and Myriam Ullens, has stirred a storm.

Some media reports suggest the couple are divesting themselves of their interest in the Ullens Center for Contemporary Art (UCCA), Beijing, which they founded in 2007, and it has even been said the couple has lost interest in the contemporary Chinese art market.

The sale value of the 106 artworks, which include Zhang Xiaogang's Forever Lasting Love (1988) and Wang Guangyi's Mao Zedong (1988), is estimated at $12-17 million, according to Sotheby's official website.

An article in The Art Newspaper, titled "For Guy Ullens, the dream of a Chinese art museum is over", says that, "Once he (Guy Ullens) has done this, he says he intends to spend more time on his charitable education work in Nepal and return to collecting young artists, with his focus now on Indian rather than Chinese artists".

The report adds he is to hand over the management of his contemporary art gallery in Beijing to "long-term partners" and "divest himself of the institution".

The management of UCCA, Beijing's leading non-profit, contemporary art center, denied the reports and insists the couple will not leave UCCA and they are planning to establish a board that will ensure the future progress of the center.

"We have discussed that report with Mr Ullens and he says that he is disappointed with the content because he has been misquoted and the angle of the story is wrong," says Li Muyi, communication director of UCCA.

"Mr Ullens has flown to the center every year since it opened in 2007 and he has been devoted to it. We have nearly 20 regular exhibitions planned for this year and our education organization will have regular events. So it's ridiculous to say 'it's over'," Li says.

Regarding the Sotheby's Hong Kong announcement of the April auction of works from the Guy and Myriam Ullens Foundation Collection, UCCA has sent a statement to media, saying: "The Ullens Foundation and UCCA are separate organizations. The sale and/or display of the works in the Foundation Collection will have no effect on the day-to-day operations or long-term goals of UCCA".

"The Ullens have chosen to sell a number of selected works, but they will also continue to acquire new works from an even younger generation of artists."

"Artists such as Zhang Xiaogang and Wang Guangyi are established today," Li says. "When they were young, in the 1980s, Mr Ullens was keen to show their artworks abroad, offering them a platform to be noticed. And he is doing the same thing now."

Li says the only change at UCCA will be in its management system, with more directing board members coming in. He says Guy Ullens, 76, wants more Chinese art experts to join the decision board, which is good for the center's lasting development.

"When the couple founded the center, they were the only ones who supported the center in all aspects. In the short term, it's OK. But long term, it's not healthy. A world-class art center needs more sources to promote exhibitions and other art events," Li says.

Though she didn't reveal when the board members would be announced, she says the Ullens will definitely be among them.

Located in a former industrial complex, the 798 arts district of northern Beijing, UCCA opened in November 2007, transforming two large factory buildings and a collection of smaller ones into nearly 2,500 square meters of exhibition space, with an auditorium, a library, a shop and a restaurant.

Guy Ullens, who has had business interests in China for many years, has collected contemporary and classical Chinese art with his wife for two decades, and currently has about 2,000 works of art.

The goal of the center, as Guy Ullens said in earlier interviews, is "to give something back to the country and the people who have given him so much, and to share his passion and appreciation for contemporary Chinese art with art lovers in China and all over the world", Li says.

Zhu Qi, a contemporary art critic from Shanghai, who is based in Beijing, wrote on his blog on Feb 17 that, "UCCA has lost its confidence in the Chinese contemporary art market". He also pointed out that this market is lacking in professionalism and Chinese artists haven't created many great works during the past few years.

"UCCA brings world-class exhibitions to Chinese viewers, that's for sure, which is helpful for the development of Chinese contemporary art," says Su Xinping, the vice president of China Central Academy of Fine Arts.

"But for any Western art center, coming to China and investing in art will not bring them commercial benefits. The reason for the Ullens' auction and the report raising people's suspicions is that we need a place like UCCA to see high level artworks and our contemporary market is not mature yet."

(China Daily 03/01/2011 page18)

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