Andy Warhol, ‘Statue of Mao and Building’, 1982, Phillips

From the Catalogue:
In late February 1972, President Richard Nixon and the First Lady Pat Nixon travelled to Beijing, thus ending a 25 year period of diplomatic disconnection between the two nations. Nixon dubbed these pivotal seven days “the week that changed the world”. The meeting between the President and Chairman Mao Zedong, and the Nixons’ visit to the Great Wall were covered extensively by Western media, and were immortalised on the covers of Life Magazine and TIME.

In the same year, and shortly after this momentous occasion, Andy Warhol’s oeuvre took on a radical new shift, and he began to paint sequences of Mao portraits. Enlarging a photograph of Mao from the “Little Red Book”, the artist transferred the Chairman’s image onto a huge variety of canvases, and injected the portraits with lively colours and brushwork. Mao’s image became a vital fixture of Warhol’s oeuvre, and remains amongst the artist’s most important depictions, alongside Marilyn, Elvis, and Jackie (Kennedy).

“…I painted Mao about four hundred times. I used to see how many I could do in a day.”
Andy Warhol, quoted in Christopher Makos, Andy Warhol China 1982, China, 2007, p. 63

Exactly ten years later, Warhol’s fixation with Mao materialised into a chance excursion to China’s capital, where he would come vis-à-vis the subject of countless of his works. When considered against the artist’s philosophy of reproduction and repetition, his photographs of modern China take on another meaning, evoking at once the country’s economic development thanks to its mass manufacture. Moreover, Mao’s immense influence on the country, his philosophies on the masses, and the country’s veneration for him as depicted in endless posters produced during the Cultural Revolution, can all be counted within the very lexicon of Warhol’s artistic language of duplication and mass-distribution.

In many ways, that Mao is as ubiquitous to China as he is to Warhol’s oeuvre is extremely fitting, and it is unsurprising that many have juxtaposed the two while referring to the artist’s works. Referencing Christopher Makos’ photograph of Warhol posing in front of the Chairman, Xu Bing states, “If you look at the Andy Warhol photo where he is standing in front of the big portrait of Mao in Tiananmen Square, then you can understand how Andy Warhol’s art works with Mao’s ideas about the masses, the people, and pop culture.” (Xu Bing, quoted in ‘IN CONVERSATION: Xu Bing with Ellen Pearlman’, Brooklyn Rail, 4 September 2007.)

By portraying the image of the Chairman in repeating sequences, Warhol simultaneously effaced the figure of its meaning while necessarily drawing attention to its inherent importance. Taken in the grander context of Warhol’s equal treatment of other figures and objects—from Elvis Presley to Campbell Soup cans—the artist’s frenzied images of Beijing in the present sale, of Mao, of its people, of its monuments are especially telling.

From Warhol’s imitation of Tai Chi practitioners (Lot 14); to the image of the ever-present famed Chinese bicycles (Lots 6, 9, 15, 16, 18, 28); to the uniformity of Chinese Mao jackets (Lots 6, 8- 10, 15, 19, 24, 28); to his fascination and adoption of symbols and semiotics (Lots 3, 15, 17, 20-22); each lot in the present sale is a photographic extension of Warhol’s fascinations with symbology, and epitomises the artist’s machinations of dissecting, ascribing, and describing meaning.
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.

Melbourne, National Gallery of Victoria; Pittsburgh, The Andy Warhol Museum, Andy Warhol / Ai Weiwei, 11 December 2015 – 11 September 2016

Nicholas Chambers, Michael Frahm and Tony Godfrey, eds., Warhol in China, Germany, 2014, pp. 202, 303 (illustrated)

The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc., New York
Acquired from the above by the present owner

About Andy Warhol

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