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  • Provenance

    Private collection, France

  • Catalogue Essay

    As the 1980s drew to a close, Wang Guangyi produced a series of paintings entitled Mao that established him as a fearless rebel and secured his place in art history. Mao Zedong had died in 1976. The Gang of Four, which seized power after his demise, led by Mao's wife Jiang Qing, had been ousted in 1978. As their trial began in 1980, portraits of the Chairman were quietly removed from the public arena. ‘Mao crazes' continued to sweep through society as the people mourned their enormous loss. The mood, as the remembrance, was complicated and contradictory.
    In the atmosphere of confusion and numbness, Wang Guangyi daringly resurrected the Chairman in eight large paintings of fire-engine red and somber grey that mocked the billboard style of portraits ubiquitous in Mao's political reign. These imposing paintings presented the nation's former leader overlaid by a grid of thick lines. On a small scale these compositions might resemble the ‘squaring up' of a preparatory sketch or photograph for a monumental portrait of the Chairman. In the hands of an avant-garde artist satirical comment was assured. The grid motif placed a non-traversable barrier between ‘Mao' and his audience, which suggested a strategic map or a blueprint for analysis. There is an eerie sense of dissection about to be performed. The original portraits of Mao had provided the masses with the same access to the great leader as altarpieces provide the faithful to Jesus. Wang Guangyi's barrier required people to pause for a moment before approaching this deity. His implication was that they should do so with care.K. Smith, ‘From Mao to Now' in Nine Lives: The Birth of Avant-Garde Art in New China, Zurich 2005

275

Mao

1991
Oil on canvas.
100 x 100 cm. (39 3/8 x 39 3/8 in).
Signed ‘Wang Guangyi' lower right.

Estimate
£120,000 - 180,000 

Sold for £169,250

Contemporary Art Evening Sale

29 June 2008, 5pm
London