A Blazing Market Star, Chinese-French Painter Zao Wou-Ki Will Receive a Two-City Extravaganza at Kamel Mennour

The show is the first gallery exhibition since the conclusion of a legal battle over his estate.

Zao Wou-Ki Juin—Octobre 1985 (1985). Photo courtesy of Sotheby's.

It’s no secret that the Chinese-French painter Zao Wou-Ki’s market has been heating up. Last year, a new auction record was set for the late Modernist’s work when his colossal triptych Juin-Octobre 1985 (1985) sold for $65 million at Sotheby’s Hong Kong.

Since the artist’s death in 2013, commercial activity for his work has been largely restricted to the secondary market while his descendants jockeyed for control of his estate in court. Both his third wife Françoise Marquet and his son from his first wife, Jia-Ling Zhao, staked a claim to the artist’s unsold paintings. The legal battle finally came to an end in September 2017, when a French judge ruled that the artist had intended Marquet to run his foundation.

One-and-a-half years later, French gallerist Kamel Mennour will stage the first solo exhibition in collaboration with the now-official Zao Wou-Ki Foundation. The survey show, which opens in March, will span one of the gallery’s three spaces in Paris (47 rue saint andré des arts) and its London space.

Mennour previously exhibited Zao’s work in a two-person show alongside Henri Michaux—the Belgian-born poet and painter with whom Zao became friends when he moved to Paris—in 2002, and at Art Basel in 2018. But the upcoming exhibition will be the gallery’s first solo show with the artist.

The exhibition will include important works on paper spanning more than 60 years, from 1948 to 2009. Zao has become famous for fusing Eastern and Western styles of painting in his massive, saturated compositions.

“This unique presentation conceptualizes an integral aspect of Zao Wou-Ki’s practice; his paintings on paper,” says the exhibition’s curator Erik Verhagen, a professor of contemporary art history at Université Polytechnique Hauts-de-France. The presentation includes “an intimate selection of works from the late 1970s, and the last decade of his life.”

According to artnet’s Price Database, there has been a sharp increase in auction sales for Zao’s work since 2016 as he developed increasing international recognition. In the past 12 months alone, an impressive 90 percent of the 389 lots offered were sold, totaling $260 million in sales.

Thanks to strong demand in both China and Europe, total auction sales of Zao’s work more than doubled in the first six months of 2018 over the equivalent period last year, according to the artnet Intelligence Report. The only postwar artist who sold more work at auction during that period was Andy Warhol. 

“Zao Wou-Ki” will be on view at kamel mennour in Paris from March 1 to April 13, 2019, and in London from March 2 to March 29, 2019. 

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