In Paris, Zao met a number of artists who shared his interest in abstraction, including the French painter
, but also other expats like
. In 1957, Soulages took Zao to New York, where he was inspired by the
. He showed with some of the most prominent galleries of the day, such as the New York-based Kootz Gallery and Paris dealer Pierre Loeb.
After his visit to New York, Zao moved into his “hurricane period,” where he moved away from more figurative works in favor of bold, abstract paintings that explored space and structure. Works from this period, spanning from roughly 1959 to 1972, have long been the most sought-after among collectors of Zao’s works, with his work 29.01.64 (1964) fetching $25.9 million at Christie’s in 2017 and holding his auction record until last fall.
Zao’s triptychs have taken center stage in recent years, partly due to their size: at 33 feet in width, Juin-Octobre 1985 was the largest oil painting he ever made; his second-largest painting ever to come to auction, Triptyque 1987-1988 (1987–88), fetched $22.6 million at a Christie’s auction earlier this year. For Steinberger, the huge scale and ambition of Zao’s late-career works gives them tremendous appeal and wall power.
“His 1980s and ’90s works are as intense as his ’60s, and it was just a factor of getting people in front of them,” he said.