Andy Warhol - Contemporary Art Evening Sale New York Thursday, November 15, 2012 | Phillips
  • Video

    ANDY WARHOL Mao, 1973

    Contemporary art specialist and Head of the Evening Sale, Zach Miner, presents Andy Warhol's 'Mao', 1973. Though it would be tempting to appreciate this work only for its beautiful tones and rich textural variations, it is impossible to ignore Warhol's acerbic political commentary resulting from the coloring of the picture. Warhol exploits the received American idea of Red Terror to the benefit of painting's visual impact. In addition to the explicit coloring of his clothing, Warhol covers Mao's face in what appears to be make-up, reminiscent of his famous Liz and Marilyn paintings. Warhol's portrait contains as much scathing cultural criticism as it does painterly innovation.

  • Provenance

    Leo Castelli Gallery, New York
    Ace Gallery, Vancouver
    Ira and Adele Yellin, Los Angeles
    Tony Shafrazi Gallery, New York
    Private Collection

  • Exhibited

    Paris, Musée Galliera, Andy Warhol: Mao, February 23 – March 18, 1974
    Chicago, Hokin Gallery, Andy Warhol, September 9 – O ctober 11, 1977
    New York, Tony Shafrazi Gallery, Andy Warhol: Thirty Are Better Than One, May 3 – June 14, 1997
    New York, L&M Arts, Andy Warhol: Mao, September 7 - O ctober 7, 2006

  • Literature

    G. Battcock, “Andy Warhol: New Predications for Art,” in Arts Magazine, May 1974, p. 37 (illustrated)
    M. Livingstone, Pop Art, Musée des beaux-arts de Montréal, Montreal, 1990 (illustrated)
    G. Frei and N. Printz, The Andy Warhol Catalogue Raisonne; Paintings and Sculpture 1970- 1974, New York, 2002, p. 204, no. 2297 (illustrated)

  • Catalogue Essay

    If Warhol can be regarded as an artist of strategy, his choice of Mao as a subject—as the ultimate star—was brilliant.

    (K. McShine, Andy Warhol Retrospective, exh. cat., Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1989, p. 19)

    The late 1960s brought a hiatus to Andy Warhol’s career as a painter. Since Valerie Solanas’ assassination attempt in 1968, Warhol suffered from acute health problems due the destructive path of Solanas’ bullet. Exhausted and frustrated with the physical demands of generating work in the Factory, Warhol turned to filmmaking for a number of years, predominantly producing commissioned portraits. Yet, Warhol’s particular artistic bravery would prove undeterred by symbols of Eastern terror and destruction. Warhol painted again. The resulting pictures signaled a new path for him, one paved with expression and reinforced with political irreverence. In Mao, 1973, we see Warhol’s second coming, fresh as his first.

    Warhol spent much of the 1960s utilizing ready-made portraits of celebrities for silkscreens, sourcing them from newspapers, magazines, and other media. However, his broader concern would envelope the concept of celebrity in its purest form, visible in his creative gravitation toward actresses of great repute (Monroe, Taylor) or fashion icons in American culture (Jacqueline Kennedy). Warhol occasionally dabbled in portrayals of destruction as well, finding the media to be an endless fountain of iconic and tragic events to choose from. Conversely, Warhol secluded himself from politics, preferring the glamor and glitter of distraction. In addition, Warhol’s paintings of the 1960s tended not to extend beyond the boundaries of America itself—each was a study of a definitively American phenomenon. Meanwhile, Mao Tse-Tung’s execution of the Cultural Revolution had profound consequences for the artistic and intellectual life of China. Mao’s slogan of “Destroy the Old World, forge the New World”, had
    a particular resonance for Chinese artists and intellectuals, as most faced imprisonment or death at the hand of Mao’s policies. As America increased its political exchange with China, especially after China achieved status as a nuclear power in 1967, cultural exchange increased as well. Suddenly Chairman Mao was a highly recognizable figure to the average American, his deceptively good-natured smile donning Communist propaganda pamphlets that appeared with regularity on the evening news. In particular, copies of Mao’s “Little Red Book” began to appear with increasing frequency in the United States. A collection of quotations from Mao, the handbook was an instruction for the Cultural Revolution, peppered with illustrations of the Chairman at work and play. A readymade icon.

    Following 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 recognized 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). Warhol had already uncovered an artistic opportunism beginning with his Marilyn and Jackie portraits of the early 1960s. Yet the image of Mao Tse-Tung made for recognition on a near universal scale. By placing the politician within his pantheon of icons, Warhol stepped up his game of portraiture: glamor was no longer the necessary quality for his subjects to possess. Now it was fame and glamor.

    Experimenting with different techniques of production, Warhol would soon incorporate the art-historical stylings of a previous movement into his new work. Once he had decided on the image of Mao as a subject, Warhol began to look back upon Abstract Expressionism with fascination. The present lot is a shinning example of Warhol’s excitement upon entering the world of painting once again. Much of the visual power of Mao, 1973, comes from its trichromatic visual punch: upon first viewing the painting,
    red, yellow, and Matisse blue, the viewer is instantly captivated. The three primary colors are rarely seen grouped together in such elegant independence. Warhol envelopes the surface, he leaves no area of the silkscreen untouched, saturating every inch of the canvas with thick swaths of viscous pigment.

    The leader himself has been blown up to over one hundred times his original size in the Little Red Book. Warhol’s silkscreening process, which at the time of painting Mao, 1973, he had employed for over ten years, was completely standardized as he produced pictures in the factory. The chosen image was blown up to an enormous size, traced with glue, then rolled with ink or paint to produce of large-scale impression of the image. Since Warhol often used the same “stencil” for different portraits of the same figure, the impressions themselves would vary according to any remaining ink residue, integrity of the glue on the screen, or various other factors. Yet it lent each picture a completely unique imprint. Warhol conceived of “variation within the same”.

    Mao’s expression is not the typical grimace or fanatical stare of our civilization’s modern fascist leaders. Instead, Chairman Mao adopts the poise of a benevolent caretaker, his eyes soft and his mouth forming a subtle and approving smile. This trope of a kind and compassionate leader was common to the masterminds and leaders of Communism, especially in its early years: both Vladimir Lenin and Josef Stalin bore this gentle demeanor in their official state portraits. Though Soviet leaders such as Khrushchev and Brezhnev abandoned this narrative in favor of projecting military power and strength, Mao Tse-Tung held his seat as the Chairman through Stalin, Khrushchev, and Brezhnev’s reigns as Soviet premiers. Clinging hard to old habits, his benevolent face never faded away from his party’s illustrated literature. Here, Mao, 1973, appears roughly twenty years younger than his actual age of eighty at the time of Warhol’s painting. His traditional clothing and infamous mole are make appearances below his kind face, familiar staples for hundreds of millions of Chinese for decades before.

    Aside from the variable print of Mao Tse-Tung upon its canvas or the tones that Warhol uses in the picture, the present lot is Warhol’s masterful segue into his adventures in Abstract Expressionism. The blue, yellow, and red tones that make up the personality of the painting are not applied in rational, controlled strokes. Instead, as we can clearly observe at the bottom portion of the picture within the red of Mao’s suit, enormous brushstrokes wash across the canvas vertically and horizontally, soaking
    the surface in the deep saturation of Warhol’s brush. The texture of Mao’s surface is less the measured acrylic of Warhol’s celebrity series of the 1960s—where small patches of paint highlight the subject’s features or monochrome backdrops set the stage for the print to take all of the attention—and more the action painting of the 1950s, where the kinetic hand of the artist brought a striking vitality to the canvas.

    Though it would be tempting to appreciate the present lot only for its beautiful tones and rich textural variations, it is impossible to ignore Warhol’s acerbic political commentary resulting from the coloring of the picture. Mao’s typically neutral grey tunic appears here in a vibrant glowing red, a firm reminder that the kind face that Mao projects belongs to a seminal figure in Communist theory and history. Warhol exploits the received American idea of Red Terror to the benefit of painting’s visual impact. In addition to the explicit coloring of his clothing, Warhol covers Mao’s face in what appears to be make-up, reminiscent of his famous Liz and Marilyn paintings. Warhol’s portrait contains as much scathing cultural criticism as it does painterly innovation.

    By redirecting his career toward a more pointed interpretation of major cultural figures, Warhol entered a new realm of image production, one where an image can represent iconicity whatever its content. In addition, Warhol’s Mao series is one of the most blatantly irreverent and borderline satirical feats of his entire career. “Warhol used Mao’s notoriety to his own advantage by presenting the leader’s monumental image to the Western public as a figure of fun.” (J. Spring, “Andy Warhol: Fame and Misfortune”, Andy Warhol: Fame and Misfortune, San Antonio, 2012, p. 21)

    While in one respect Warhol has adopted the politician as the celebrity, irreverence is perhaps too mild a word a for Warhol’s portrait of the Communist leader. In 1973, Mao had been the political leader of China for nearly three full decades. In his time as Chairman, both the art of China’s past and the promise of art for China’s future were wiped clean by the anti-creative terrors of the Cultural Revolution. Perhaps Warhol’s greatest triumph is to use his portrait as a weapon, and to make the figure that
    derided free expression a spectacular embodiment of free expression himself. In the present lot, Warhol shows us that his art is not simply pleasing, but a weapon against those who would choose to annihilate it.

    Mao, 1973, begins Warhol’s new phase of iconic development. He continued in the vein of world political symbols throughout the 1970s and 80s, possessing special admiration for both Lenin’s portrait and the hammer and sickle in his silkscreen portraiture. But the significance of Mao, 1973, cannot be easily overstated; it was an artistic voyage into the depths of the global symbolism.

  • 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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silkscreen ink and synthetic polymer paint on canvas
50 x 42 in. (127 x 106.7 cm)
Stamped by the Andy Warhol Art Authentication Board and numbered A115.969 along the overlap.

$12,000,000 - 18,000,000 

Sold for $13,522,500

Contemporary Art Evening Sale

15 November 2012
New York