A master of postwar abstraction, Zao Wou-Ki (1920–2013) created a unique pictorial language shaped by diverse influences. Throughout his long career, Zao’s experimentations in oil on canvas, ink on paper, lithography, engraving, and watercolor, allowed each image to evolve from the next, without imposing boundaries. As an artist, he came to inhabit his given name, Wou-Ki, or 無極 “no limits.”
Zao Wou-Ki began his formal artistic training at the age of fifteen at the newly established National Academy of Fine Arts (now China Academy of Art) located in Hangzhou. In 1948 Zao immigrated to Paris and soon took the international art world by storm. Over the course of the next six decades, Zao became a major presence in Europe, America, and Asia, and now stands out as an exemplar of the global scope of modern abstraction.
No Limits: Zao Wou-Ki is the first museum retrospective of the artist’s work in the United States. Drawing together key works from public and private collections in America, Europe, and Asia, this exhibition of Zao’s works illustrates the encounter between Asian aesthetics and international art movements that came to define postwar abstract painting. His artistic practice and innovative methods reveal the dynamic cross-cultural circulation of ideas and images, and the role Zao played in the creation of a modernist aesthetic that was a truly pluralistic phenomenon.
No Limits: Zao Wou-Ki is co-organized by Colby College Museum of Art and Asia Society Museum, New York. The exhibition is cocurated by Dr. Melissa Walt, Research Associate, Colby College; Dr. Ankeney Weitz, Ellerton M. and Edith K. Jetté Professor of Art, Colby College; and Michelle Yun, Senior Curator, Modern and Contemporary Art, Asia Society.
On November 18, 2016, Asia Society hosted Asian Abstractions/Global Contexts, a symposium on the legacy of Zao Wou-Ki and other East Asian Diasporic artists on 20th Century Art. Watch the symposium online.
For more information visit Asia Society’s website.
Related Publications and Press
The lavishly illustrated scholarly exhibition catalogue presents the research findings of Research Associate in Art Melissa Walt, and Ellerton M. and Edith K. Jette Professor of Art Ankeney Weitz. It is copublished by the Colby College Museum of Art and Asia Society, and distributed by Yale University Press.
Exhibition review: Roberta Smith, Zao Wou-Ki, an Abstract Fusion Master, The New York Times, Sept. 2016
Exhibition review: Lance Esplund, ‘No Limits: Zao Wou-Ki’ Review: East and West Fused in Paint, The Wall Street Journal, Sept. 2016
Exhibition review: Charles Ruas, To The Limits and Back: How Chinese Ex-Pat Zao Wou-Ki’s Experiments With Western Modernism Led Him Back To Traditional Chinese Aesthetics, ARTNEWS, Nov. 2016
Exhibition review: David Ebony, Zao Wou-Ki, Art in America, Jan. 2017