Warhol’s Mao Works Censored in China

March 25, 2013, 2:35 PM

Warhol’s Mao Works Censored in China

By Doug Meigs

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Andy Warhol’s ‘Mao’ pieces are some of his best-known works.

Mao Zedong’s face has long graced trinkets and kitsch sold at tourist markets across China. But in the country’s top art museums, his most famous portrayal by a Westerner isn’t welcome.

Sorry, Andy Warhol.

Although the scion of Pop Art passed away in 1987, Warhol is still generating controversy. A vast traveling retrospective of his work, “Andy Warhol: 15 Minutes Eternal,” has already made stops in Singapore and Hong Kong as part of a two-year Asia tour, but when it moves to mainland China next month, the artist’s Mao paintings won’t be coming along.

Organized by the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh, the full exhibition consists of hundreds of Warhol’s best-known artworks, including eight silkscreen paintings of Mao. The museum declined to state where the Mao paintings would be kept while the show is on display in Shanghai and Beijing, its two China stops.

“We had hoped to include our Mao paintings in the exhibition to show Warhol’s keen interest in Chinese culture,” said Andy Warhol Museum director Eric Shiner in a statement. He added, “We understand that certain imagery is still not able to be shown in China and we respect our host institutions’ decisions.”

The museum’s staff declined to confirm the exhibition’s dates and venues for Shanghai and Beijing. Its website currently says “check back for details” on the show for both cities.

Nonetheless, over the weekend Shanghai’s Power Station of Art, China’s first state-owned gallery dedicated to contemporary art, posted on its website that it would host “15 Minutes Eternal” from April 29 to July 28 with free entry. The Shanghai institution did not reply to requests for comment.

In an op-ed last month, the English-language edition of the state-owned Global Times tabloid said that Warhol’s Mao paintings pushed the boundaries of cultural acceptability. According to the author, color painted or splotched on Mao’s face could appear like cosmetics — a disrespectful treatment of the Chairman’s face.

Art and controversy are common bedfellows in China. Pop Art was a major influence for China’s contemporary artists in the 1980s and ’90s, among them Ai Weiwei, whose persistent documentation of everyday life once earned him the nickname “the Chinese Andy Warhol.” The artist’s detention by Chinese authorities in April 2011 prevented him from visiting the Warhol Museum one month later.

In the Hong Kong edition of “15 Minutes Eternal,” on view through April 1, the public appeared to respond well to the Mao paintings, which were displayed with a Mao print from the museum’s permanent collection.

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About Koon Boon Kee
Bamboo Innovator Institute is set up to establish the thought leadership of resilient value creators around the world. KB Kee is the Managing Editor of the Moat Report Asia (www.moatreport.com), a research service focused exclusively on highlighting undervalued wide-moat businesses in Asia. The Moat Report is developed together with our European partners The Manual of Ideas (www.manualofideas.com), the idea-oriented acclaimed monthly research publication for institutional and private investors. The MRA’s paid-subscribers from North America, Europe, the Oceania and Asia include professional value investors with over $20 billion in asset under management in equities and savvy private individual investors. KB has presented his thought leadership as a keynote speaker in global investing conferences with speakers including famed serious investors Donald Yacktman, Howard Marks, Jean-Marie Eveillard etc. KB has trained CEOs, entrepreneurs, CFOs, management executives in business strategy, macroeconomic and industry trends in Singapore, HK and China. KB has been rooted in the principles of value investing for over a decade as a fund manager and analyst in the Asian capital markets. He was head of research and fund manager at a Singapore-based value investment firm since 2002. As a member of the investment committee, he helped the firm’s Asia-focused equity funds significantly outperform the benchmark index. He was previously the portfolio manager for Asia-Pacific equities at Mirae Asset Global Investments, Korea’s largest mutual fund company. He holds a Masters in Finance and degrees in Accountancy and Business Management, summa cum laude, from the Singapore Management University (SMU). He had also taught accounting at the SMU. He had published cutting-edge empirical research in the Special Issue of Istanbul Stock Exchange 25th Year Anniversary of the Boğaziçi Journal, Review of Social and Economic Studies, as well as wrote articles about value investing and corporate governance in the media.

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