Kate Carlisle (


A groundbreaking exhibit of a modern Chinese master is drawing crowds at the Colby College Museum of Art.

No Limits: Zao Wou-Ki is the first retrospective of the Sino-French artist’s work in the United States. It was on view at Asia Society in New York last fall to glowing reviews. 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.”

Traces dans la ville (Tracks in the city), 1954. Oil on canvas. 52 × 64 in. (132.1 × 162.6 cm). Colby College Museum of Art, Gift of the Honorable Sherwood Tarlow, 1993.016. (c) Zao Wou-Ki / ProLitteris, Zurich.

No Limits was co-curated by Ankeney Weitz, Ellerton and Edith Jetté Professor of Art, and Research Associate Melissa Walt with collaboration by Michelle Yun, Senior Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art at the Asia Society.

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 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.

The exhibit, organized in five sections, includes 49 works in oil, ink, print, and watercolor. Major institutions in the United States, Europe, and Asia, including the Colby Museum of Art, loaned pieces for the exhibit. A fully illustrated catalog (Yale University Press) accompanies the exhibit, complete with an introduction and extensive essays by Walt and Weitz.

Walt and Weitz’s dedication to the overall project stemmed from their belief that Zao Wou-Ki is “really one of the great masters of 20th-century art” and a desire “to reintroduce him to American audiences and allow them to see his significance,” Weitz said.