Zao Wou-Ki, Rouge, bleu, noir (Red, blue, black), 1957. Oil on canvas, 29 1/2 x 32 in. (74.9 x 81.2 cm). Harvard Art Museums/Fogg Museum. Gift of Benjamin and Lilian Hertzberg, 2007.29. © Zao Wou-Ki/ProLitteris, Zurich.

Zao Wou-Ki, Rouge, bleu, noir (Red, blue, black), 1957. Oil on canvas, 29 1/2 x 32 in. (74.9 x 81.2 cm). Harvard Art Museums/Fogg Museum. Gift of Benjamin and Lilian Hertzberg, 2007.29. © Zao Wou-Ki/ProLitteris, Zurich.

Ankeney Weitz and Melissa Walt set out to gather the best work of one of the great masters of 20th-century art and, in Weitz’s words, “reintroduce him to American audiences and allow them to see his significance.” Exhibits at the Asia Society Museum in New York and now at the Colby College Museum of Art have done just that.

The two art historians have co-curated the exhibit No Limits: Zao Wou-Ki, the first retrospective of the Sino-French artist’s work in the United States. The exhibit and accompanying book (see P. 32) are the culmination of five years of research in Europe and Asia by Weitz, Ellerton M. and Edith K. Jetté Professor of Art, and Walt, research associate and former faculty fellow. Michelle Yun, senior curator of modern and contemporary art at the Asia Society, participated in the collaboration. The exhibition remains at Colby until June 4.

The exhibit, according to a Wall Street Journal review, captures the “complications, strengths, triumphs … of his artistic undertaking” in the “captivating” works on display. The New York Times calls the exhibit “an intriguing, peripatetic, at times beautiful affair” with images that have a “sprightly energy and a hypnotic power.”

Zao was the first Chinese artist to have a global impact, according to Weitz. “At Colby, we talk about connecting to the world,” she said, “and that’s what he did his entire life.”

The New York Times calls the exhibit “an intriguing, peripatetic, at times beautiful affair” with images that have a “sprightly energy and a hypnotic power.”

The art historians’ interest in the artist grew out of an appreciation for one of Zao’s important works—Traces dans la ville (Tracks in the city)—which the Colby Museum of Art holds in its permanent collection. Walt, a scholar of modern and contemporary Chinese art, instigated the collaboration in 2009 with Weitz, a historian of ancient Chinese art. Multiple research trips to China, Europe, Hong Kong, and Taiwan gave rise to the exhibit, which includes works from private and public collections worldwide.

Their collaboration was special since scholars in the humanities almost always work alone, Weitz said. “It’s very unusual to have a truly collaborative project where you’re working almost consistently with a person, looking at the same texts, the same artwork, and discussing them,” she noted. Colby student assistants and interns contributed to the project with translation and research support.