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Zao Wou-Ki: The Eternal Return to China

Exhibition details

1 December, 2021
22 May, 2022
Event Category:
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(By Appointment only)

Villepin is delighted to announce its upcoming exhibition of the late Chinese French master Zao Wou-Ki, exploring the artist’s lifelong examination and reflection of Chinese inheritance. 

Following Villepin’s inaugural exhibition with the artist in 2020, Zao Wou-Ki: The Eternal Return to China continues the gallery’s ongoing research into his life and art. This presentation aims to uncover the complex facets and layers of his artistic journey from China, around the world and ultimately, back to his native homeland. Throughout the artist’s career, his relationship with China was omnipresent and permeated his work.

This curated presentation will feature exceptional and rarely seen works, including oil paintings, ink works, and watercolors. Through research into newly discovered archive interviews with the artist, this exhibition aims to shed light on a lesser-known aspect of Zao Wou-Ki and his relationship with China, its history and culture. Although he spent most of his career in Europe, China has always been close to his heart and served as a lifelong inspiration in his work. 

During his early and late period, he often evoked the ideas and artistic styles of ancient China, embodying a sense of freedom without being confined to any school or movement in the process. His work succeeded at both ends of artistic creation, moving nimbly between and across abstraction and figuration. Zao Wou-Ki transcended the boundaries of tradition, which enabled him to create a highly individual visual language of his own. At the same time, he adamantly rejected the commonly circulated images of China in Europe, which he found to be vulgar chinoiseries and caricatures.

Particularly drawn to the cultural and creative innovations of ancient China, the artist sought to create artworks that reflected his personal history. Together with friend and renowned architect IM Pei, Zao Wou-Ki did not feel encumbered by tradition but rather was encouraged by this period in Chinese history that exalted truth and freedom through art. 

In order to evoke a sense of Zao Wou-Ki’s incredible adventure, the gallery will be redesigned to reflect his ambition between tradition and modernity, and the ancient Chinese culture that served as a constant inspiration to his life and work. 


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