Art Market

KAWS is facing criticism in China for a Mao Zedong painting that was to be sold at Sotheby’s.

Christy Kuesel
Oct 3, 2019 4:45PM, via ARTnews

The artist KAWS in New York. Photo by Neil Rasmus/Patrick McMullan via Getty Images.

Art market superstar KAWS is facing criticism in China for a 2002 work that was due to be auctioned on October 7th at Sotheby’s in Hong Kong, which pictures Chairman Mao with crossed-out eyes, big goofy ears, and hair and bowtie typical of the artist’s style. Mao was the founder of the Chinese Communist Party, which recently celebrated its 70th anniversary of Chinese rule.

The work was set to be auctioned at Sotheby’s in a sale that featured several other KAWS works; it was estimated to sell for between $HK 620,000 and 950,000 ($US 79,000–$121,000). The Mao painting has since been removed from the auction house’s website, though it is still accessible through Mutual Art. Contacted by Artsy, a Sotheby’s spokesperson confirmed the Mao work had been pulled from the sale, but would not comment further.

According to Highsnobiety, some people have posted videos burning KAWS products on platforms like Instagram and Weibo after an article in 2CCM publicized the auction and pointed out the sale’s proximity to the 70th anniversary of the People’s Republic of China. Those who were offended also took to Instagram to accuse the artist of insulting China. In response to the protests, Uniqlo has pulled all of its wildly popular KAWS merchandise from its Chinese website.

It was at Sotheby’s Hong Kong that KAWS broke his auction record this April, bringing in $HK 116 million ($US 14.8 million) for his painting The KAWS Album (2005).

Further Reading: 6 Reasons to Take KAWS Seriously

Christy Kuesel