Bloomberg News

Beijing Bans Warhol’s Mao Portraits from China Exhibition

December 17, 2012

Beijing Denies Mao 15 Minutes of Fame With Warhol Painting Ban

Andy Warhol's 'Mao' is displayed at Christie's in London. Photographer: Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images

Andy Warhol’s famous images of Chairman Mao won’t be part of the biggest ever traveling exhibition of his works when they go to China next year, an organizer said.

The show includes more than 300 paintings, photographs and films, featuring Warhol’s iconic Campbell’s Soup cans, Jackie Kennedy and Marilyn Monroe as well as 10 Mao paintings which Chinese authorities have decided to exclude.

If mainland fans of Warhol want to see silkscreens of the Great Helmsman, they will have to catch the Hong Kong leg of “Andy Warhol: 15 Minutes Eternal” which opened yesterday.

“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.

The exhibition which opened first in Singapore, and runs through to March 31 at the Hong Kong Museum of Art, will then travel to Shanghai, Beijing and Tokyo, as part of a 26-month Asian tour to mark the 25th anniversary of Warhol’s death.

Nixon Visit

Warhol decided to create the Mao paintings after U.S. President Richard Nixon’s historic 1972 visit to China, employing the same technique of acrylic and silkscreen-ink on canvas that he’d used to create portraits of celebrities including Monroe, Kennedy and Elizabeth Taylor.

According to the Christie’s auction website, Warhol chose Mao as “the ultimate star”, using an image of him taken from the portrait photograph reproduced in the Chairman’s so-called Little Red Book.

“He wasn’t being disrespectful,” Shiner said.

Ten years later, Warhol’s own visit to China in 1982 was documented by Christopher Makos, some of whose photographs are included in the Hong Kong exhibition.

The show has already been a “huge” success, said Shiner, who said that 175,000 people visited the exhibition in Singapore, more than the 120,000 annual visitors to the Pittsburgh museum. Even without the Maos, he is hoping for as many as two million attendees in China.

The Shanghai leg will be held at the Power Station of Art, the city’s new contemporary art museum that opened on Oct. 1. Shiner said he’s still finalizing details on the Beijing location.

Muse highlights include Jorg von Uthmann on Paris art and Elin McCoy on wine.

To contact the reporter on this story: Frederik Balfour in Hong Kong at fbalfour@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Manuela Hoelterhoff at mhoelterhoff@bloomberg.net


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