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.

About bambooinnovator
Kee Koon Boon (“KB”) is the co-founder and director of HERO Investment Management which provides specialized fund management and investment advisory services to the ARCHEA Asia HERO Innovators Fund (www.heroinnovator.com), the only Asian SMID-cap tech-focused fund in the industry. KB is an internationally featured investor rooted in the principles of value investing for over a decade as a fund manager and analyst in the Asian capital markets who started his career at a boutique hedge fund in Singapore where he was with the firm since 2002 and was also part of the core investment committee in significantly outperforming the index in the 10-year-plus-old flagship Asian fund. He was also the portfolio manager for Asia-Pacific equities at Korea’s largest mutual fund company. Prior to setting up the H.E.R.O. Innovators Fund, KB was the Chief Investment Officer & CEO of a Singapore Registered Fund Management Company (RFMC) where he is responsible for listed Asian equity investments. KB had taught accounting at the Singapore Management University (SMU) as a faculty member and also pioneered the 15-week course on Accounting Fraud in Asia as an official module at SMU. KB remains grateful and honored to be invited by Singapore’s financial regulator Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) to present to their top management team about implementing a world’s first fact-based forward-looking fraud detection framework to bring about benefits for the capital markets in Singapore and for the public and investment community. KB also served the community in sharing his insights in writing articles about value investing and corporate governance in the media that include Business Times, Straits Times, Jakarta Post, Manual of Ideas, Investopedia, TedXWallStreet. He had also presented in top investment, banking and finance conferences in America, Italy, Sydney, Cape Town, HK, China. He has trained CEOs, entrepreneurs, CFOs, management executives in business strategy & business model innovation in Singapore, HK and China.

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