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  • "I have been reading so much about China...The only picture they ever have is of Mao Zedong. It's great. It looks like a silkscreen."
    —Andy Warhol

    Andy Warhol in front of Tiananmen Square, Beijing, 1982. Image: © Christopher Makos, 1982

    One of Andy Warhol’s most iconic portraits, Mao captures the political and painterly consciousness that preoccupied the artist in the early 1970s. Embodying a significant juncture in Warhol’s career, the Mao paintings mark his return to silkscreen painting with a much more expressive handling after devoting himself to film since 1965. After Richard Nixon’s historic visit to China in 1972, Warhol undertook a body of Chairman Mao portraits between 1972 and 1973, creating a total of 199 paintings in five scales. Exhibited at Warhol’s landmark show at the Musée Galliera, Paris, in May 1974, the present work belongs to the medium-sized series of 34 paintings, which are represented in the permanent collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, The Broad, Los Angeles, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, and the Rubell Museum, Miami.

    "Mao was a brilliant choice, and Andy’s timing was perfect. The Mao paintings, when they were exhibited a year later in New York, Zurich, and Paris, were greeted with universal acclaim. They were controversial, commercial, and important, just like the man they portrayed and the man who painted them." 
    —Bob Colacello

    Installation view of Andy Warhol: Mao at the Musée Galliera, Paris, 1974. Artwork: © 2021 The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc. / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

    Transforming the globally-known photograph of Mao Zedong used for propagandic dissemination during the Cultural Revolution in China (1966-1976) into a pop mélange of capitalist product, Warhol’s serial Maos are nonetheless each endowed with unique characteristics. The present work particularly showcases Warhol’s painterly touch, as his rapid Willem de Kooning-esque gestures blend the left side of Mao’s tunic with the background and catch the yellow pigment with the pink and magenta swathes. The leader’s face also gets caught in the tornado of brushwork and is punctuated with blue in the abstract frenzy of color and movement, materializing Douglas Crimp’s perceptive statement from 1973: “[Warhol] has given us an image of Mao with such brutal force that, however we formulated our mental picture of the Chinese leader a moment ago, he has supplanted it with his own.”i

     

     

    First inspired by Nixon’s televised announcement in July 1971 on his sanctioned visit to China, Warhol’s Maos were conceived over a conversation between the artist and Bruno Bischofberger in 1972 as they were contemplating Warhol’s painterly reprise. On the genesis of the Mao series, Bob Colacello recalled, “It began with an idea from Bruno Bischofberger, who had been pushing Andy to go back to painting…Bruno’s idea was that Andy should paint the most important figure of the twentieth century.”ii At the time Warhol embarked on the series, the official photograph of the Chinese communist revolutionary was one of the most reproduced images around the world. Although Bischofberger had suggested Albert Einstein for his Theory of Relativity, Warhol replied, “That’s a good idea. But I was just reading in Life magazine that the most famous person in the world today is Chairman Mao. Shouldn’t it be the most famous person, Bruno?”iii For Warhol, the Chinese leader embodied the sensational drives that ultimately fascinated him. “Politics, after all, combines two of the themes that interested Andy most,” Colacello observed. “Power and fame.”iv

     

     

    Known as Warhol’s first prolific series after his Flowers of 1964, the Maos returned to the vein of the artist’s images of popular culture earlier in his career, while transforming the infamous politico-cultural icon into one of his Pop images of celebrity. Using the famous photograph of Chairman Mao from his own copy of the leader’s Little Red Book, Warhol loaded the canvas with painterly swathes before transferring the image by dragging a squeegee laden with ink over the screen. For the first time since embracing the silkscreen medium in 1962, he applied a bold, expressive gesturalism that signaled a major technical and stylistic turning point in his oeuvre. This was immediately evident upon the exhibition of the Maos at the Musée Galliera the year after their creation, when Gregory Battcock observed in his review of the show, “In the new works the combinations of the splashy, expressionist elements with the precise silkscreen images almost tend to cancel one another out or, at least, refute the precision of the screens.”v


    Douglas Crimp, “New York Letter,” Art International, vol. 17, no. 2, February 1973, p. 46.
    ii Bob Colacello, Holy Terror: Andy Warhol Up Close, New York, 1990, p. 110.
    iii Ibid., 111.
    iv Ibid., 110.
    v Gregory Battcock, “Andy Warhol: New Predictions for Art,” Arts Magazine, vol. 48, May 1974, p. 35.

    • Provenance

      Leo Castelli Gallery, New York
      Knoedler & Company, New York
      The Artist
      Paul Bianchini, New York
      Kimiko and John Powers, Colorado
      PaceWildenstein, New York
      Mugrabi Collection, New York
      Mr. & Mrs. Patrick Demarchelier, New York
      Stellan Holm Gallery, New York
      Acquired from the above by the present owner in December 2005

    • Exhibited

      Paris, Musée Galliera, Andy Warhol: Mao, February 23 - March 18, 1974
      Los Angeles, Margo Leavin Gallery, Mao, My Mother, and Other Friends, April 3 - May 3, 1975
      Ridgefield, Aldrich Museum of Contemporary Art, Fall 1977: Contemporary Collectors, September 25 – December 18, 1977, n.p. (illustrated)
      Hong Kong, Christie's and L&M Arts, Mao by Andy Warhol, May 22-29, 2008, no. 6 (illustrated)
      Paris, Galeries Nationales, Grand Palais, Le Grand monde d'Andy Warhol, March 16 - July 13, 2009, no. 87, pp. 112, 203, 264 (illustrated, p. 115)
      Athens, Byzantine and Christian Museum, Warhol Icon: The Creation of an Image, October 7, 2009 - January 10, 2010, p. 60 (illustrated, p. 39)

    • Literature

      Carter Ratcliffe, Andy Warhol, New York, 1983, no. 58, p. 64 (illustrated, p. 65)
      Neil Printz and Sally King-Nero, eds., The Andy Warhol Catalogue Raisonné: Paintings and Sculpture 1970 – 1974, Volume 3, London, 2010, no. 2324, p. 223 (illustrated, p. 216)

    • Artist Biography

      Andy Warhol

      American • 1928 - 1987

      Known as the “King of Pop,” Andy Warhol was the leading face of the Pop Art movement in the United States 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 like Campbell's soup tins, and celebrities like 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 a mentor to such artists as Keith Haring and Jean-Michel Basquiat.

      View More Works

Property of a Gentleman

36

Mao

signed and dated “Andy Warhol 73” on the overlap
acrylic and silkscreen ink on canvas
26 1/8 x 22 in. (66.4 x 55.9 cm)
Executed in 1973.

Full Cataloguing

Estimate
$3,500,000 - 4,500,000 

Sold for $3,000,000

Contact Specialist

Amanda Lo Iacono
Head of Auctions
New York
+1 212 940 1278

[email protected]

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

New York Auction 23 June 2021