Andy Warhol - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale London Tuesday, October 4, 2016 | Phillips
  • Video

    Andy Warhol: Icon Inversion

    '20 Pink Mao's' is part of Wahol's seminal reversal series, which began the same year this piece was executed, in 1979. The images that were serialized in this period were among the most iconic of the artist's prolific career. The use of the inverted image of Chairman Mao in contrast to earlier depictions of the Communist revolutionary functions as a eulogy, rather than a provocation or commentary on the storied former leader.

  • Provenance

    Galerie Bruno Bischofberger, Zurich
    Acquired from the above by the present owner in 2006

  • Exhibited

    Seoul, Ho-Am Museum, Andy Warhol: Pop Art's Superstar, 20 August - 9 October 1994, p. 62 (illustrated)
    Milan, Palazzo delle Stelline, L'anormalita dell'Arte, 5 December 1993 - 5 February 1994
    Vienna, Galeria Würthle, Andy Warhol, 23 February - 27 March 1993

  • Catalogue Essay

    The late 1970s and early 80s was a pivotal time for Warhol, forming a period of self-reflection that pushed him in critically rigorous and aesthetically potent new directions. It was then that the pioneering appropriator of pop culture turned to his own oeuvre as a resource for new creative output; amalgamating earlier series’ into single Retrospective canvases, revisiting the themes of his formative Dollar Bill works with an entirely fresh iconography, and creating his ominous series of Shadows that engaged with the subtle traces that all things leave behind. But it was the Reversal series where Warhol made his most direct and profound interventions. Taking the most significant icons from his corpus such as Marilyn Monroe, the Mona Lisa, the Electric Chair and Chairman Mao, Warhol used self-appropriation to cast a new perspective on the images that seemed most familiar of all. ‘These were the images that had made him famous – the icons, symbols and brands through which he had made his own name and which had therefore to some extent become associated with his own life, history, career and myth.’ (Robert Marrone quoted in, “Retrospectives and Reversals,” Andy Warhol: Big Retrospective Painting, Zurich, Galerie Bruno Bischofberger, 2009, pp. 23-24)

    Thought to be the rarest of these interpolations, and arguably the most significant, Warhol’s reversals of Chairman Mao demonstrate a shrewd recalculation of one of the world’s most ubiquitous portraits. Warhol began creating paintings of Mao in 1972 using a widely circulated photograph from the Little Red Book, a pocket-sized index of quotations, thoughts and citations from Chairman Mao. Following President Nixon's trip to China in 1972, Mao's image had reached an unprecedented level of international exposure. It was then that Warhol chose to direct his vision beyond America to a global audience. Compared to Mao Tse-Tung, the icons of Warhol's 1960s portraiture were minor: 'The image of Mao taken from the portrait photograph reproduced in the Chairman's so-called Little Red Book, is probably the one most recognised by more of the earth's population than any other readymade icon, representing absolute political and cultural power. In Warhol's hands, this image could be considered ominously and universally threatening, or a parody or both.' (K. McShine, Andy Warhol Retrospective, exh. cat., Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1989, p. 19).

    However, if in 1972 the image of Mao represented political ideology and a seemingly indomitable power, by the time Warhol revisited this motif in his Reversal series it had entirely different connotations: Mao Tse-Tung passed away in 1976, marking the end of a regime that had lasted over thirty years. Warhol’s initial depictions of this Communist icon were full of painterly vitality and were depicted on a monumental scale similar to that of Mao’s portrait in Tiananmen Square. This grid of twenty, however, sees the once imposing image realised with far more delicate proportions like a quiet homage to the original source: the pocket sized Little Red Book. Much like the images of Marilyn, the Reversals of Mao represent an iconographical eulogy for a once significant public figure where the images live on like traces or shadows destined to repeat endlessly throughout the world’s cultures.

    By inverting the colours of his preceding originals Warhol drastically altered their mood – turning the light areas dark and highlighting the once shadowy negative spaces. However this spectral presentation also brings the works closer to the photo-negatives that would have once been the basis of their formation, aligning the literal artificiality of production with the implied superficiality of Warhol’s subjects. This evocation of the photographic negatives also references Warhol himself as a photographer and image maker, further harmonising with the evident self-referentiality of this series.

    The resultant melancholic and self-analytic tone of the Reversal series reflects the brooding sensibility that had begun to pervade much of Warhol’s oeuvre during this period. ‘Here, in these works, and increasingly conscious of the passing of time and his own encroaching mortality, Warhol had seemingly cast his famously cool and objective eye over subject matter that was indicative of both art and death.’ (Robert Morrone, op. cit. p. 24). This existential self-awareness followed Warhol through a succession of series of Guns, Knives and Crosses until the artist’s untimely death in 1988. But by feeding off the sustenance of his own art’s history, Warhol breathed new life into it, allowing his works, much like his own personal myth, to live-on endlessly in the parables of pop culture.

  • Artist Biography

    Andy Warhol

    American • 1928 - 1987

    Andy Warhol was the leading exponent of the Pop Art movement in the U.S. in the 1960s. Following an early career as a commercial illustrator, Warhol achieved fame with his revolutionary series of silkscreened prints and paintings of familiar objects, such as Campbell's soup tins, and celebrities, such as Marilyn Monroe. Obsessed with popular culture, celebrity and advertising, Warhol created his slick, seemingly mass-produced images of everyday subject matter from his famed Factory studio in New York City. His use of mechanical methods of reproduction, notably the commercial technique of silk screening, wholly revolutionized art-making.

    Working as an artist, but also director and producer, Warhol produced a number of avant-garde films in addition to managing the experimental rock band The Velvet Underground and founding Interview magazine. A central figure in the New York art scene until his untimely death in 1987, Warhol was notably also a mentor to such artists as Keith Haring and Jean-Michel Basquiat.


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20 Pink Mao's

signed, dated and titled 'Andy Warhol 79 "20 pink Mao's reversal series"' on the overlap
synthetic polymer and silkscreen ink on canvas
99.7 x 96.8 cm (39 1/4 x 38 1/8 in.)
Executed in 1979.

£4,000,000 - 6,000,000 

Sold for £4,741,000

Contact Specialist
Peter Sumner
Head of Contemporary Art, London
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Henry Highley
Head of Sale
+ 44 20 7318 4061

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

London Auction 5 October 2016