Three Zao Wou-Ki Masterpieces Embodying the Peak Periods of ‘Hurricane’ and ‘Infinity’

Three Zao Wou-Ki Masterpieces Embodying the Peak Periods of ‘Hurricane’ and ‘Infinity’

T wo stages mark the twin pinnacles of Zao Wou-Ki’s immeasurable artistic achievement: the Hurricane Period in the 1960s and Infinity Period in the 1980s. Epitomizing these periods, 20.30.60, 19.11.59 and 29.02.88, featured at Modern Art Evening Sale at the Sotheby’s Spring Auction series, are a full realization of the artist’s vision during the heights of his career. The three works speak volumes of the modern Asian master’s irresistible draw, which has captivated the globe for decades.

Zao Wou-Ki, 20.03.60, 1960. Estimate: HKD 65,000,000 – 85,000,000

20.03.60 was painted in 1960, the same year Zao Wou-Ki returned to Paris after a lengthy journey to seek inspiration for his art. His travels proved to be life changing. Not only did he find a new approach influenced by American post-war Abstract Expressionism, he also met May-kan, who became his second wife. Brimming with passion, love and artistic revelation, Zao Wou-Ki drew upon this sense of new beginnings to fuel his creative spirit.

From the ancient symbols that characterized his Oracle Bone Period, the artist moved toward the unrestrained, intangible universe of his Hurricane Period. During that time, Zao Wou-Ki found in Myriam Prévot, director of Galerie de France in Paris, a champion of his work, and she helped bring his paintings to prominence and to the peak of prestige in the 1960s.

From the peak of the Hurricane Period, 20.03.60 reinterprets Chinese traditional landscape, expressed through post-war abstract expressionist techniques. While the middle ground outlines a magnificent stretch of everlasting mountains, the background is shrouded in an impenetrable mist. The effect is a new aesthetic perspective that explores spatial arrangement of both the virtual and the real. Rich in color layering, the composition takes various gradations of red as its primary palette, which is further embellished with ink brushstrokes and white smudges. Within the vast sea of color, the composition resembles a majestic vision of sunrise above the waters.

Zao Wou-Ki, 19.11.59, 1959. Estimate: HKD 60,000,000 – 80,000,000

19.11.59 marked the beginning of Zao’s Hurricane Period. The work features bright, beautiful blues, with deep, almost inky tones at the top and bottom. The middle of the work is saturated in a white lead halo, as if energy is gathered in store there, waiting to be released on either side. This three-part structure of upper, middle, and lower layers is characteristic of Zao’s Hurricane Period. Here, the painting comprises calligraphic lines with no discernible form or image, permeated with an entirely natural living energy.

19.11.59 began its life in New York with Kootz Gallery before it entered the collection of the Upjohn Company in Michigan. Since its founding in 1945, the gallery had established an excellent reputation through its support of Robert Motherwell, Willem de Kooning, and other leading artists. From the 1950s onward, gallery founder Samuel Kootz devoted himself to expanding the international vision of the American art scene and actively supported outstanding artists from elsewhere in the world.

In the 1980s, as the Cold War was coming to an end and the doors to Asia began to reopen. Zao Wou-Ki was by then in his 60s and established as a world-class artist, embraced by museums and receiving invitations to hold exhibitions around the world. It was at this point that Zao embarked upon another period of concentrated activity in North America and East Asia. In 1980, Pierre Matisse, son of Fauvist master Henri Matisse, came to formally represent Zao Wou-Ki and held a solo exhibition at his 57th Street gallery in New York, marking Zao’s return to the art scene in the U.S.

As his career moved into a new stage, Zao Wou-Ki would draw upon new sources for creative inspiration and missions. Having the benefit of life experience and richer insight, his creative spirit settled into a serene space. Nevertheless, his works still exuded the confidence and energy rooted deeply in both Eastern and Western cultures. Particularly after he became famous, he sought to confront the artistic languages of earlier masters. These tributes to art history, which were also challenges and sources of encouragement for him, shaped his bright, luminous style in the 1980s.

Zao Wou-Ki, 29.02.88, 1988. Estimate: HKD 30,000,000 – 50,000,000

29.02.88 represents a brilliant milestone in Zao Wou-ki’s journey. Closer examination of the artist’s work between 1986 and 1991 would reveal that he often painted arched structures that were open in the middle and enclosed on the top, left, and right sides. This was a new form in his work from the 1980s to the early 1990s. The colors in Zao Wou-Ki’s paintings became brighter and more luminous. He more often employed diluted colors and flowing, splashed techniques. The arched structure mentioned above can be connected to the classic composition of the Peach Blossom Spring motif. This great combination of Eastern and Western art was recognized by the art world at the time.

Modern Asian Art
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