Stamped by the Andy Warhol Authentication Board and numbered A103.0510 on the overlap
acrylic and silkscreen ink on canvas
Executed in 1973.
Leo Castelli Gallery, New York (LC #994)
The Jared Sable Gallery, Toronto
Acquired directly from the above by the present owner circa 1976
Warhol’s choice of Mao Tse Tung as a subject could not have been more aptly timed. Executed during America’s Cold War, the controversial subject matter rendered with Warhol’s new painterly style of working combined to put this portrait on the map of art history as one of the most iconic images of the 20th century.
Instantly recognisable throughout the Western world, the image of Chairman Mao is one that could be found in every storefront in China. Immortalised on canvas and painted in bold primary colours like one of his celebrities, in contrast to Warhol’s portraits of Liz and Marilyn, Mao represents the other side of public notoriety. A fearful figure whose threat to America’s democratic ideals reflects Warhol’s fascination with death and disaster, the vivid colours and expressive brushwork of the portrait parody and undermine the perceived ominous power of the Chinese leader. In an epoch when intellectuals and artists were being persecuted in China and ‘re-educated’ via the Cultural revolution, what Warhol communicates so succinctly here is that not only has ‘Fame’, or in this case notoriety turned Mao into a symbol, a commodity, a caricature, but that the great Communist leader, has essentially made himself a commodity by replacing images of popular Chinese entertainers with images of himself.
Having previously ‘retired’ his hand from the creative process, Warhol’s portraits of Mao announced his renewed interest in painting by hand. Unlike his earlier flattened silkscreens, Mao is much more painterly in style with its loose brushwork of bright hand-painted acrylic hues. Embedded beneath and defining the image of Mao, the portrait’s expressionist-like background is dramatically enhanced by the authorless silkscreen of Mao. In a radical departure from the sombre tones of the original source photograph, the energetic emphases and bright hues of the paint seem more appropriate for a Hollywood star than a Communist leader. As such, Mao provides a superlative example of Warhol’s examination of the inherent contradictions of fame and celebrity.
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