“A master of postwar abstraction, Zao Wou-Ki (1920–2013) created a unique pictorial language shaped by diverse influences. Throughout his long career, Zao’s experimentations in oil on canvas, ink on paper, lithography, engraving, and watercolor, allowed each image to evolve from the next, without imposing boundaries. As an artist, he came to inhabit his given name, Wou-Ki, or 無極 “no limits.”
Zao Wou-Ki began his formal artistic training at the age of fifteen at the newly established National Academy of Fine Arts (now China Academy of Art) located in Hangzhou. In 1948 Zao immigrated to Paris and soon took the international art world by storm. Over the course of the next six decades, Zao became a major presence in Europe, America, and Asia, and now stands out as an exemplar of the global scope of modern abstraction.
“No Limits: Zao Wou-Ki” is the first museum retrospective of the artist’s work in the United States. Drawing together key works from public and private collections in America, Europe, and Asia, this exhibition of Zao’s works illustrates the encounter between Asian aesthetics and international art movements that came to define postwar abstract painting. His artistic practice and innovative methods reveal the dynamic cross-cultural circulation of ideas and images, and the role Zao played in the creation of a modernist aesthetic that was a truly pluralistic phenomenon.” — Introductory Wall Text, Boon Hui Tan, Vice President of Global Arts & Cultural Programs and Museum Director
To Learn is to Create
“[A friend] said to me: ‘To learn is to create.’ I will use that motto.” — Zao Wou-Ki
Sans titre (Joueurs de tennis) (Untitled [Tennis players]), 1945. Oil on muslin, 10 5/8 × 13 3/4 in. (27 × 35 cm). Private Collection, Switzerland ©Photography by Dennis Bouchard.
Paysage à Hangzhou (Landscape in Hangzhou), 1946. Oil on canvas, 15 × 18 1/8 in. (38 × 46 cm). Private collection, Switzerland ©Photography by Antoine Mercier.
Sans titre (Untitled), 1949. Ink on paper, 4 13⁄16 × 8 11⁄16 in. (12.2 × 22 cm). Private collection, Switzerland ©Photography by Naomi Wegner.
Lune noire (Black moon), 1953. Oil on canvas, 45 × 57 5⁄8 in. (114.3 × 146.4 cm). Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Charles Zadok / Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art, Cornell University ©Photography courtesy of Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art, Cornell University.
Calligraphy is the Starting Point
“. . . if the influence of Paris is undeniable in my complete artistic development, I also must say that I have gradually rediscovered China, to the extent that my deepest personality asserted itself. . . Paradoxically, perhaps, it is to Paris that I owe this return to my deepest roots.” — Zao Wou-Ki, Paris, 1961
Hommage à Chu Yun—05.05.55 (Homage to Chu Yun—05.05.55), 1955. Oil on canvas, 76 3⁄4 × 51 1⁄8 in. (195 × 130 cm). Private collection, Switzerland ©Zao Wou-Ki ProLitteris, Zurich. Photography by Dennis Bouchard.
Sans titre (Untitled), 1954. Watercolor on paper, 19 1⁄2 × 19 in. (49.5 × 48.3 cm). Colby College Museum of Art, Gift of Françoise Marquet-Zao ©Photography by Dennis Bouchard.
Rouge, bleu, noir (Red, blue, black), 1957. Oil on canvas, 29 1⁄2 × 32 in. (74.9 × 81.3 cm). Harvard Art Museums/Fogg Museum, Gift of Benjamin and Lilian Hertzberg, 2007.29 Imaging Department © President and Fellows of Harvard College.
Water Music, 1957. Oil on canvas, 20 × 28 in. (50.8 × 71.1 cm). Chao 2000 Trust. Photography by Michelle Geoga, 2012.
22.11.63—Hommage à John F. Kennedy (22.11.63—Homage to John F. Kennedy), 1963. Oil on canvas, 45 5⁄8 × 31 7⁄8 in. (116 × 81 cm). Private collection, Taiwan ©Zao Wou-Ki/ProLitteris, Zurich. Photography by Christie’s, 2010–2011.
A Place to Wander
“I like people to be able to stroll in my works as I do when creating them.” — Zao Wou-Ki
05.03.65—Pour mon frère Wu- Wai (05.03.65—For my brother Wu-Wai), 1965. Oil on canvas, 26 × 39 in. (66 × 99.1 cm). Chao 2000 Trust. Photography by Michelle Geoga, 2012.
13.01.76, 1976. Oil on canvas, 59 × 63 3⁄4 in. (150 × 162 cm). Private collection, Taiwan ©Zao Wou-Ki/ProLitteris, Zurich Rights Reserved.
Décembre 89–Février 90—Quadriptyque (December 89–February 90—Quadriptych), 1989–90. Oil on canvas. Each canvas: 63 3⁄4 × 39 3⁄8 in. (162 × 100 cm); overall: 63 3⁄4 × 157 1⁄2 in. (162 × 400 cm). Private collection, Taiwan ©Zao Wou-Ki/ProLitteris, Zurich. Photography by Jean-Louis Losi.
Sans titre (Untitled), 1972. India ink on paper, 26 3⁄16 × 47 1⁄16 in. (66.5 × 119.5 cm). Private collection, Switzerland ©Zao Wou-Ki ProLitteris, Zurich. Photography by Antoine Mercier.
From Randonnées (Journeys), 1974. Five etchings with aquatint. Page: 12 13⁄16 × 10 1⁄16 in. (32.5 × 25.5 cm). External portfolio (closed): 13 3⁄8 × 10 9⁄16 × 1 1⁄8 in. (34 × 26.8 × 2.8 cm). Artist edition 23 of 24; complete edition of 125. Book by Roger Caillois Éditions. Yves Rivière, Paris Private collection, Switzerland ©Zao Wou-Ki ProLitteris, Zurich. Photography by Antoine Mercier.
Sans titre (Untitled), 1994. Watercolor on paper, 17 × 12 in. (43.2 × 30.5 cm). Private collection, Taiwan ©Zao Wou-Ki/ProLitteris, Zurich Rights Reserved.
Co-organized by Asia Society Museum, New York, and Colby College Museum of Art, Waterville, Maine. Co-curated by Dr. Melissa Walt, Research Associate, Colby College; Dr. Ankeney Weitz, Ellerton M. and Edith K. Jetté Professor of Art, Colby College; and Michelle Yun, Senior Curator, Modern and Contemporary Art, Asia Society. Exhibition at Colby College Museum of Art, February 4 – June 4, 2017.
Images courtesy Asia Society Museum.
You must be logged in to post a comment.