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Warhol’s Mao won’t be headed to China

Warhol’s Mao won’t be headed to China

Bloomberg is reporting (via the Beijing Cream blog) that Andy Warhol’s famous Mao prints won’t be on display during the Beijing stop of a traveling retrospective of the artist’s work: 

“They said the Maos won’t work,” Eric Shiner, director of The Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh, said in an interview in Hong Kong. “This is disappointing because his imagery is so mainstream in Chinese contemporary art.”

A person familiar with the show, who asked not to be named because of the political sensitivity of the issue, confirmed the Mao works had been rejected by the Ministry of Culture. The Ministry of Culture and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs didn’t immediately respond to faxed questions seeking comment today.

Chinese art lovers still have until march to make the trip to Hong Kong, where the exhibit — including the Maos — is currently on display. 

Warhol was not a particularly political artist and was more interested in Mao’s status as a cultural icon than his actions or ideas. But some of China’s more daring contemporary artists have obviously been inspired by him. Ai Weiwei’s painting of a Coca-Cola logo on a Han dynasty vase is an obvious Warhol homage. There’s also pop art influence the work of the Gao brothers, whose most famous works depict Chairman Mao in a variety of compromising positions, including "as a kneeling penitent, with giant breasts, a detachable head, and in one of their most famous works, as a firing squad of clones about to execute Jesus Christ. "

China’s not the only place where artists have used pop art for political means. The North Korean propaganda painter-turned-satirist Song Byeok, who I had the chance to speak to earlier this year, has incorporated a variety of Warholian imagery into his mocking portraits of Kim Jong Il, including Marilyn Monroe and Campbell’s Soup Cans.

So while Warhol may never have intended his prints as a criticism of the Chairman, the authorities may not want any more subversive artists getting ideas.