Myriam Ullens, a key art collector who, with her husband Guy, transformed the Chinese art scene, died at 70 on Wednesday, after reportedly being shot outside her apartment in Lasne, Belgium.
Multiple Belgian publications have reported Ullens’s stepson Nicholas is the alleged shooter. An investigation is being conducted, and a motive has not yet been determined.
According to VRT, Ullens was already dead by the time emergency services arrived at the scene.
Within the international art world, the Ullenses are highly regarded for boosting the profile of Chinese contemporary art. Myriam and Guy, who ranked on the annual ARTnews Top 200 Collectors list between 2008 and 2015, amassed a collection of around 2,000 artworks, many of them by Chinese artists.
In 2008, the couple founded a private museum then known as the Ullens Center for Contemporary Art in Beijing. It has since been renamed the UCCA Center for Contemporary Art; it now also operates spaces in Beidaihe and Shanghai as well, and is considered one of the top venues for contemporary art in China, a country with numerous private museums.
The UCCA had not responded to a request for comment on Ullens’s alleged killing at the time of publication.
Born in 1952, Ullens’s activities were hardly limited to collecting. In 1993, she launched Happy House Kathmandu, a Nepalese organization that her biography on her foundation’s website describes as “a mix of orphanages, intensive care units for poorly fed babies.” And, having survived a cancer diagnosis, she later founded a cancer charity foundation that remains active.
In 2011, she launched the Brussels-based fashion label Maison Ullens, whose garments have been famously worn by Melania Trump and others. (A Maison Ullens spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment.)
With Guy, whom she married in 1999, she assembled a world-class collection over the course of several decades. (Guy had begun buying art in the ’60s, long before he wedded Myriam.) Their holdings of Chinese art are particularly deep, with works by Huang Yong Ping, Wang Jianwei, Xu Zhen, and many others among them, though they have also collected art by many others hailing from outside China, from Rashid Johnson to Tracey Emin.
The couple began by collecting Chinese antiquities such as centuries-old scroll paintings and later moved on to buying contemporary art.
Their commitment to China ran deep. In 2007, Guy and Myriam famously sold their valuable Turners at Sotheby’s in order to fund the opening of the Ullens Center. The cache of works went for nearly $22 million, exceeding expectations at the time. After the museum opened, the couple would continue to sell works to keep the center open, in sales that were often closely watched.
Their collection of Chinese art continued to grow, and in 2009, the New York Times reported that they had gathered one of the “biggest collections of Chinese contemporary art.”
Myriam said her and Guy’s holdings were always changing, telling Ocula, “A collection is like a living breathing body. It evolves in an organic manner.”
This is a developing story.