- 30.5 x 25.7公分；12 x 10 1/8英寸
M. Knoedler & Co., New York
André Emmerich Gallery, Inc., New York
Joni Gordon, Los Angeles
Sotheby’s, New York, 24 September 2014, Lot 12 (consigned by the above)
Acquired from the above by the present owner
The idea to paint Chairman Mao Tse-tung had taken seed in Warhol’s imagination ever since Nixon’s televised announcement in July 1971 of a sanctioned visit to China. Following the end of the Chinese Civil War in 1949, America’s refusal to recognise the new communist government drew an iron curtain between China and the US that lasted over twenty years. In an effort to thaw Sino-American relations and in a tactical move to help resolve the Vietnam War, Nixon was the first President to visit the People’s Republic of China. Following Nixon’s trip in February 1972, Warhol was quick off the mark; work on the first Mao paintings began the very next month. The choice of subject was thus timely and suited Warhol’s trademark vacillation between detachment and censure. As stated by Bob Colacello: “Andy wasn’t apolitical; he was ruthless. Mao was a brilliant choice, and Andy’s timing was perfect. The Mao paintings, when they were exhibited a year later in New York, Zurich, and Paris, were greeted with universal acclaim. They were controversial, commercial, and important, just like the man they portrayed and the man who painted them. And they were all about power: the power of one man over the lives of one billion people” (Bob Colacello, Holy Terror: Andy Warhol Up Close, New York 1990, p. 111).
Moving seamlessly from celebrities and popular culture for his source imagery, Warhol's induction of the mythic, deified image of the Communist leader into an art form that fetishised consumerist objects is wonderfully subversive. Warhol's source image derives from an official portrait of the authoritarian ruler that was exhibited prominently above the Tiananmen Square gate where, in 1949, Mao had announced the founding of the People's Republic of China. Symbolising perpetual surveillance, the image was ubiquitous in every schoolroom, shop front, and public institution across the country and was reproduced on the first page of Quotations from Chairman Mao Tse-tung, more commonly known as Mao's 'Little Red Book'; a publication widely disseminated during and after the Cultural Revolution as a mandatory citizens' code. With a print-run estimated at over 2.2 billion, this made Mao's stern yet benevolent face one of the most extensively reproduced portraits in history. Fascinated by the ubiquitous proliferation of this single image, Warhol would have undoubtedly picked up on affinities between the mass-media derivation of his own work and the propagandist role of Mao’s official portrait.
By channeling the iconic communist leader through expressive painterly flourishes, Warhol transmutes political significance: no longer does Mao represent a symbolic threat to the American dream, rather, he has been assimilated and introduced into the vacuous cult of celebrity. Throughout the cultural revolution of the previous decade, Chairman Mao had all but extinguished popular culture in China and substituted himself in the place of the stars of stage and screen. Here, Warhol appropriates and subverts this policy. Defacing Mao’s deified portrait with undulating brushstrokes of saturated blues and greens, he installs him as an icon of American Pop.