The South China Morning Post previews the October sale of several works by Zao Wou-ki, including what will surely be the most expensive work by the artist on the market if it sells.
The 1982 triptych, which, in Zao’s usual style, just has the date stamp for title, is the work of a confident artist comfortable in exploring his ideas about representing a non-visual experience on a two-dimensional surface, says Zao expert Melissa Walt, who teaches contemporary Chinese art at Colby College in the US. “Some of his works I’d describe as transcendental,” Walt says.
According to Sotheby’s Chen, Zao’s large-format paintings from the 1980s represented a breakthrough for the artist, after a tumultuous time in the 1970s. Chan May Kan, his second wife, who he met in Hong Kong, died of a drug overdose in 1972 after a battle with depression, and his brother also died around the same time.
“For a year-and-a-half he couldn’t paint at all,” Chen says. Shortly afterwards, Zao visited China for the first time since he left home for Paris in 1948. This, some critics say, reunited him with the ink brush tradition of Chinese art.
When Zao emerged from his private torment and resumed work, he created some of the most profound images of his career. They catapulted him into the upper echelon of the Parisian art world in the ’80s.
The Galeries Nationales du Grand Palais commissioned a series of large-format works from him for a 1981 solo exhibition, and this marked the zenith of his career at an age when Chinese artists rarely received such recognition, Chen says.