Zao Wou-Ki “No Limits”

Asia Society and Museum

poster for Zao Wou-Ki “No Limits”

This event has ended.

“It is not easy to break free. Everybody is bound by a tradition—I, by two.”
Zao Wou-Ki, 1964

No Limits: Zao Wou-Ki, co-organized by Asia Society Museum and Colby College Museum of Art, is the first retrospective of the work of Zao Wou-Ki (1920–2013) in the United States. The exhibition aims to reintroduce American audiences to the singular achievements of this pioneering Chinese-French artist, who melded eastern and western aesthetic sensibilities in his paintings, as a key figure of the post-World War II abstract expressionist movement.

No Limits: Zao Wou-Ki takes its title from the Chinese meaning of Wou-Ki, “without limitation,” a state of being that the artist embodied through his art. One of the first artists of the Chinese diaspora to achieve international recognition, Zao was born in Beijing and spent his formative years in Shanghai and Hangzhou, where he pursued artistic study at the China Academy of Art. In 1948, he emigrated from Shanghai to Paris, where he was championed by French intellectuals and artists and in subsequent years became a major fixture in the European art world. In the 1950s and 1960s, American museums and private collectors avidly acquired his paintings, and his work was shown in numerous exhibitions including a 1968 solo exhibition at the San Francisco Museum of Art, the last American museum show of Zao’s work until now.

The importance of Zao’s work derives from his singular adaption of visual characteristics of Chinese art within twentieth-century oil-painting idioms. In Zao’s hands, abstraction reflected the encounter between two worlds and embraced both European modernism and Chinese metaphysical principles. His groundbreaking internationalist aesthetic marks him as a key figure of twentieth-century transculturalism.
No Limits: Zao Wou-Ki comprises 49 works in oil, ink, print, and watercolor, spanning more than six decades and includes loans from major institutions in the United States and in Europe. The exhibition is curated by Melissa Walt and Ankeney Weitz, Colby College Museum of Art, and Michelle Yun, Asia Society Museum. A fully illustrated catalogue, the definitive monograph in English on the artist, accompanies the exhibition. A modified version of the exhibition No: Limits: Zao Wou-Ki will be on view at Colby College Museum of Art in early 2017.



from September 09, 2016 to January 08, 2017


Zao Wou-Ki

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