Hong Kong Spring Auctions

Zao Wou-Ki’s Sublime 'Untitled' from The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum

By Sotheby's

Coming directly from the collection of The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, this seminal 1958 work, Untitled, by Zao Wou-Ki, will highlight the Modern Art Evening Sale in Hong Kong on 31 March 2019.

Zao Wou-Ki, Untitled, 1958. Estimate HK$60–80 million.

R elatively large in size, Untitled is a rare gem from Zao Wou-Ki’s Oracle Bone period. The modest use of colours resembles the thousand year-old bronzeware that withstands the test of time. Evolving from indecipherable ancient Chinese characters, the sharp and distinct brushstrokes become abstract motifs that emanated a strong presence of classical Eastern aesthetics.

Oracle bone inscriptions are the most ancient form of Chinese characters, dating as far back as 3,000 years, and are the earliest written records of the history of humanity. Prior to declaring wars or making critical decisions, ancient Chinese emperors sought guidance from the gods, either by inscribing oracles on animal bones and turtle plastrons, or by casting decrees upon bronze.

Zao’s father, a banker in China, was one of the earliest collectors of oracle bones, which in turn nurtured the artist’s penchant for ancient artefacts from his childhood. During his initial years in Paris in the 1950s, Zao published a monograph dedicated to the treasures of ancient China, which informed his painting style as it evolved into abstraction, marking the beginning of his acclaimed Oracle Bone period.

In 1957, Zao embarked on a life-changing journey to the United States, where he began his collaboration with the Kootz Gallery – a gallery best known for its championing of abstract art. This won him enduring friendships with numerous American masters, such as Franz Kline, Philip Guston and Adolph Gottlieb, among others. Meanwhile, Zao’s revolutionary combination of the ancient oracle bone and modern painting style became instantly pursued by world-class museums, propelling the artist to becoming a leading Eastern figure in the golden age of abstract expressionism.

Zao Wou-Ki, Untitled, 1958.
Zao Wou-Ki, Untitled, 1958. Estimate HK$60–80 million.

Initially presented by the Kootz Gallery, Untitled, 1958, remained in the collection of Judge and Mrs. Samuel I. Rosenman, the first White House Counsel, until 1964 when it was donated to The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York. Established in 1939, the museum based its initial acquisition and research direction on a commitment to abstract art, later opening its iconic Frank Lloyd Wright-designed building and expanding its collection with masterpieces by many of the most influential artists of the 20th century. Among the Guggenheim’s holdings of Zao Wou-Ki canvases and works on paper, Untitled is a classic depiction of the best of the artist’s Oracle Bone period. The work remained in the Guggenheim collection for five decades and will now appear at auction for the first time.

Untitled, 1958, will make its auction debut more than six decades after its creation, carrying an estimate at HK$60–80 million (approximately US$7.7–10 million), with proceeds benefitting the museum’s art fund.

Learn More About Zao Wou-Ki