The Zao Wou-Ki Foundation

 

One of the artists championed by Jean-Francois and Marie-Laure de Clermont-Tonnerre is the Chinese-French painter Zao Wou-Ki (1920-2013). 

A member of the Académie des Beaux-Arts in Paris, Zao Wou-Ki lived to see the launch of a foundation that bears his name.

It was set up to promote and pay tribute to the works of Zao Wou-Ki and to make sure that his legacy is carefully managed. The foundation also supports cultural events and artistic activities of many other artists. 

Jean-François and Marie-Laure are supporters of Zao Wou-Ki’s work and they each have important roles at the foundation, which is based in Geneva. Marie-Laure has been secretary of the Zao Wou-Ki Foundation since 2011 and Jean-Francois is vice-president. 

For Jean-François and Marie-Laure, the appeal of Zao Wou-Ki as an artist was that he was man of the world, travelling widely and living through extraordinary epoch-making times. There can't be many artists who had a ringside seat to both the Chinese Cultural Revolution and the rise of Pop Art via European modernism.

Born in Beijing in 1920, art schooled in Hangzhou, Zao Wou-Ki went to Paris in 1948. His exhibitions there drew praise from the likes of Joan Miró and Picasso. France welcomed him and his love affair with the country was to last until the end of his life over 60 years later. 

 The French novelist, art theorist and minister of cultural affairs André Malraux helped to ensure that Zao Wou-Ki became a French citizen and, in 1993, the artist’s accomplishments earned him two major honours: he was made a Commandeur de la Légion d'Honneur by then-President François Mitterrand and he was presented with the Grande Médaille Vermeil de la Ville de Paris by then-Mayor Jacques Chirac.

With the transition of China to a market economy in recent years, and with so many millionaires investing in the work of renowned Chinese artists, Zao Wou-Ki's work has become highly collectible. 

His auction record of US$14.7 million for his painting 'Abstraction' was set at Sotheby's, Beijing, in December 2013. It is a record that could well be beaten in the next five years as Chinese collectors compete to include paintings by the artist in their portfolios.

Eye-popping figures like these have led to renewed interest from the American art world too. From September 2016 through to January 2017, Zao Wou-Ki''s first major retrospective is taking place at the Asia Society Museum in New York. 

The exhibition aims to reintroduce American audiences to the singular achievements of the artist, who "melded eastern and western aesthetic sensibilities in his paintings as a key figure within post-World War II abstraction."