Zao Wou-Ki’s Highly Anticipated Work to Highlight Christie’s Cross-Continent Sale

Alongside the many highlights of Christie’s Modern and Contemporary Art Evening Sale on December 2, also not to be missed is the 20th Century: Hong Kong to New York. All eyes are on Zao Wou-Ki’s 27.01.86, which will be featured in the live-streaming relay sale linking the two cities.

The estimate of the painting is HK$35m to HK$55m (US$4.5m to US$7.1m), but is expected to fetch way more, the masterpiece measures 200 by 162 cm and its enormous size makes a perfectly-fitting scale to match the intensity projected by the artwork. 

The presenting piece is a creative playground for Wu, and what his varying brushworks create is an intricate web of vines, like those of the tree of life, extending its way to an infinite universe. The dynamic and liveliness remind one of his abstracts commissioned for the Seoul 1988 Olympic Games. 

Compared to his similar single-panel works, painted between 1985 and 1990, the presenting lot is one of the largest ones in scale, with most complexity in terms of composition as well. The highly anticipated work once again is making its appearance in an auction and is bound to bring yet another wave of craze for his works.


Lot 16 | Zao Wou-Ki (1920-2013) 27.01.86 | oil on canvas

signed in Chinese and signed "ZAO" (lower right); signed "ZAO WOU-KI", titled and dated "27.1.86" (on the reverse)

Painted in 1986

200 x 162 cm


  • Galerie Artcurial, Paris

  • Private collection, Europe

  • Anon. sale; Tajan, Paris, 21 November 2001, lot 93

  • Private collection, Asia

  • Anon. sale; Sotheby’s, Beijing, 30 November 2014, lot 38

  • Private collection, Asia

  • Anon. sale; Sotheby’s Hong Kong, 3 April 2016, lot 1025

  • Acquired at the above sale by the present owner

Estimate: HK$ 35,000,000 - 55,000,000 (US$ 4,538,044 - US$ 7,131,212)


Not only was the stunning work of 27.01.86 seen in Paris’ Galerie Artcurial in 1988, in a large-scale solo exhibition, it was also featured in a major retrospective at the Bridgestone Museum of the Ishibashi Foundation in Tokyo in 2004. The hallmark publication “Art and Artists of 20th Century China” by Micahel Sullivan, a renowned scholar of Chinese art also includes the piece, highlighting the artwork’s significance in terms of both artistic and academic values across the East and West.

In the 1980s, when 27.01.86 was painted, Zao was in his 60s and was already an established artist in the international art scene. After his beloved wife’s passing, he went through a year-long break. His work afterwards became more subtle, as he explored the Zen aesthetics during his Infinite Period. 


Zao Wou-Ki (1921-2013)


JUIN-OCTOBRE 1985, sold for over HK$ 510,000,000



10.01.86 sold for HK$ 64,711,000 in March 2019


Mention Zao’s work from the Infinite period, and chances are JUIN-OCTOBRE 1985 would come to mind. Sold for over HK$510m, this enormous work measures 2.8 by 10 meters and is the largest work created by the artist.

One that is of a similar scale to the presenting lot, is 10.01.86, measuring 195 by 130 cm, the pre-sale estimate was HK$25m to HK$35m, with the hammer price over HK$64.7m with premium. It reigns as the most valuable piece per square centimeter, among other Zao’s works from the ’80s, considering its size.

A closer look at the presenting lot, 27.01.86 shows a rare composition and more depth. It is expected that the piece will be sold way above the estimate, and may even break the record in terms of the per square centimeter value.



27.01.86 (partial)


27.01.86 (partial)


What sets Zao’s work from his Infinite period in the 1980s, apart from the rest of his oeuvre is the openness as seen in his brushstrokes, as compared to the bold experimentation elicited from his pieces from the Hurricane period of the 1960s. 

Letting go of the central-axis composition, behind the wide-open expression is a manifestation of Zao’s emotional journey of reconciling. As an already established artist at that time, Zao had already mastered both his skills and artistic temperament, giving room to full expression of his confidence.

The 1980s was also a defining period of time as Zao reached the zenith of his career. He had already garnered global recognition - with him mounting his solo exhibition at the Galeries Nationales du Grand Palais in Paris - his first at a public institution.

Not only did that mark the beginning of a series of exhibitions around the world, but it also brought Zao back to his homeland of China, where he took up a teaching position in his alma mater of the Zhejiang Academy of Art (now China Academy of Art). This period allowed him to revisit the traditional Chinese ink techniques and spatial arrangements to incorporate the elements into his oil paintings.



Tree of Life, Zao’s commissioned abstract work for the 1988 Seoul Olympics


The painter’s spiritual transformation sublimated into 27.01.86, where a blend of green ochre, ink gray, and coral strokes is interwoven into a massive web. The force field at the center extends to a boundless space, that is filled with intensity and dynamics - much like what he created for the 1988 Seoul Olympic Games, Tree of Life, that captures the Olympic spirit that symbolizes peace, unity, and resilience.


20th Century: Hong Kong to New York

Auction House: Christie’s Hong Kong

Venue: Hall 3C, Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre, No. 1 Harbour Road, Wanchai, Hong Kong

Auction: December 2, 2020 (9:30pm HKT)

Total no. of lots: 49

Viewing: November 27 - December 2, 2020