What Memes Owe to Art History
From the Catalogue:
“Gee it’s big.”
“It’s more impressive than I could have imagined.”Andy Warhol, quoted in Christopher Makos, Andy Warhol China 1982, China, 2007, p. 63, 66.
Andy Warhol’s first unfettered encounter with the image of Chairman Mao came exactly 10 years after he began experimenting with sequences of Mao portraits in 1972. Arriving in Tiananmen Square in 1982, Warhol saw, firsthand, Mao’s portrait—his first real and proper impression of the Chairman aside from the one he lifted from Mao’s Little Red Book.
“I love his book. I read it all the time. I like the simple thoughts.”
Andy Warhol, quoted in Christopher Makos, Andy Warhol China 1982, China, 2007, p. 63.
Posing with Christopher Makos outside the Forbidden City for a photograph, Mao’s face hangs behind Warhol, blurry but still presiding. “Andy actually thought the real Mao portrait was better than his, and really loved the original,” says Makos. Filled with ironic confidence, Warhol’s various comments upon coming face-to-face with the subject of his multitudinous works shaped the present collection’s photographs. Set against seas of men and women in their blue Mao suits, the Chairman’s notions of simplicity, uniformity, and conformity are at the heart of Warhol’s almost indistinguishable snapshots of myriad cultural landmarks: the Forbidden City, the Temple of Heaven, the Temple of Azure Clouds, Beihai Park, the Summer Palace, and the Fragrant Hill Hotel designed by I.M. Pei. Transformed into the nebulous and nondescript locales, the present works are at times paired with equally inconspicuous titles, and all works are given equal treatment no matter their original fame or inherent importance. In this light, the present collection becomes an in-depth interplay of origin versus appropriation and transformation.
From his large canvases of Marilyn Monroes to his repeated dollar bills, repetition to Warhol was the means through which to describe the notion of mass production in society. He was attracted to the Chinese text on signs and billboards during his trip for their foreign and abstract forms, such as can be seen in Chinese Characters (Lot 3) and in other works he had created. Perhaps it was this very curiosity in Chinese culture that perpetuated him to respond to what he was seeing by internalising and then externalising his impressions. Stretching his arms out wide, opening up his chest and lengthening his back, as seen in Lot 14, Warhol was in fact mimicking the people he saw outside of his hotel window doing ‘taichi’, a common and well-loved activity of the Chinese everyday life. From the numerous Chinese characters on billboards (Lots 12, 13, 15, 17, 23) to mass produced bicycles, buses, and cars (Lots 15, 16, 18) to rubbish bins, (Lot 2) to the very first department store established in China (Lots 7, 17), Warhol not only captured the moment of the rising consumerist culture through his camera lens, but the way he compressed every snippet of his short four day excursion into a patchwork of repetitive shots suggests that his experience of being in China was mass-produced in itself.
Like his Campbell’s soup cans, Coca-Cola bottles and Brillo soap pad boxes, Warhol’s fascination in ideas of abundance, the rise in consumerism, and the cult of celebrity culture is what truly shines through in the present body of photographs from China, be it of Mao, of its people, or of its monuments.
—Courtesy of Phillips
Signature: Blindstamp credit in the margin. Initialled ‘T.J.H.’ by Timothy J. Hunt of the Andy Warhol Foundation in pencil, estate copyright credit reproduction limitation and date stamps on the verso. Accompanied by a Certificate of Authenticity signed in ink by the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc.
Nicholas Chambers, Michael Frahm and Tony Godfrey, eds., Warhol in China, Germany, 2014, p. 307 (illustrated)
The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc., New York
Acquired from the above by the present owner
Obsessed with celebrity, consumer culture, and mechanical (re)production, Pop artist Andy Warhol created some of the most iconic images of the 20th century. As famous for his quips as for his art—he variously mused that “art is what you can get away with” and “everyone will be famous for 15 minutes”—Warhol drew widely from popular culture and everyday subject matter, creating works like his 32 Campbell's Soup Cans (1962), Brillo pad box sculptures, and portraits of Marilyn Monroe, using the medium of silk-screen printmaking to achieve his characteristic hard edges and flat areas of color. Known for his cultivation of celebrity, Factory studio (a radical social and creative melting pot), and avant-garde films like Chelsea Girls (1966), Warhol was also a mentor to artists like Keith Haring and Jean-Michel Basquiat. His Pop sensibility is now standard practice, taken up by major contemporary artists Richard Prince, Takashi Murakami, and Jeff Koons, among countless others.
American, 1928-1987, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, based in New York, New York
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