On Thursday, Phillips announced it will offer two rare paintings by Chinese postwar master, Zao Wou-Ki, 22.6.63 and 24.10.63 in its marquee Hong Kong contemporary art evening sale scheduled to take place as a live auction on July 8. Surfacing at auction for the first time in history, the works are two examples completed in the a formative moment in the artist’s career known as his 1960-1970s Hurricane Period. Together, the paintings carry estimates between HKD $38,000,000-65,0000 ($4.9-8.4 million).
With public auctions postponed globally, the July sales in Hong Kong will be a moment of reckoning for the art market.
“These magnificent paintings were initially presented by New York’s renowned Kootz Gallery,” said Isaure de Viel Castel, Phillips Head of 20th Century & Contemporary Art, Hong Kong. n “It is rare to see two such works by Zao side-by-side in red and gold, two auspicious colours in Chinese culture.”
Both examples were once owned by Walter R. Beardsley, a prominent American collector of modern and contemporary art, who purchased the works from New York dealer Samuel Kootz— an early promoter of the painter in the mid 1960s and a key figure in establishing Zao’s legacy—who urged the painter to try a monumental scale to expand the Hurricane series to its full potential. The Hurricane Period references a loose and fluid composition resembling both a cursive style of traditional Chinese calligraphy as well as the grandiose brushwork particular to the features of abstract expressionism.
After a seminal solo exhibition in 1947 in Shanghai, Zao moved to Paris to further pursue his artistic career. Around the mid-1950s, he was a part of the Paris circle of postwar vanguard of painters, including American abstract expressionists Sam Francis and Norman Bluhm, as well as the famous pair American Joan Mitchell and Canadian Jean-Paul Riopelle, and Europeans such as Portuguese painter Maria Helena Vieira da Silva, Hans Hartung and Pierre Soulages. By 1967, the painter visited New York where he met Sameul Kootz and the host of famed postwar New York school artists such as Phillip Guston and Franz Kline. By the 1980s, the painter had gained international renown having been the subject of a number of solo surveys across Europe, American and Asia.
Recognized by global cultural institutions as a seminal postwar figure, the painter has recently risen in the ranks at auction. In September 2018, his name reached new acclaim in the market when his monumental 1985 canvas sold for $65 million in a Sotheby’s Hong Kong Contemporary evening sale, establishing his current record in a public sale. The year prior, the artist’s second highest selling work to-date from 1964 went for $25.9 million in a Christie’s Hong Kong evening sale in November 2017.