Mao at the Met: a disturbing juxta-position?


“My idea of a good picture is one that’s in focus and of a famous person.”

Andy Warhol


New York 129

Mao Zedong by Andy Warhol (1928‑1987)

Metropolitan Museum of Art, Manhattan


Andy Warhol became interested in China in 1971. “I have been reading so much about China. They’re so nutty. They don’t believe in creativity. The only picture they ever have is of Mao Zedong. It’s great. It looks like a silkscreen”.

The following year he began work on the portrait, which grew into ten variations, all based on the portrait that appears in Little Red Book: the thoughts of Chairman Mao.

In 2012 the portraits were part of the touring art show ‘Andy Warhol: 15 Minutes Eternal’.  The exhibition, organised by the Andy Warhol Museum, Pittsburgh, marked the 25th anniversary of Warhol’s death. The Mao portraits, however, did not make an appearance in either Beijing or Shanghai when the show went to Asia in 2013.  The official Chinese view was that the portraits were disrespectful in suggesting that the former leader wore make-up. All the same, Mao Zedong’s legacy is currently undergoing some re-evaluation in China. There are even admissions that mistakes were made. It is a start…


For more juxtapositions go to Weekly Photo Challenge

14 thoughts on “Mao at the Met: a disturbing juxta-position?

  1. I find China’s response interesting, though simplistic – by banning or excluding something, you don’t get to explore its many nuances. This would be a great time to learn from the past, as they are marching so intently into a different future.

    1. Yes, Annette, I agree. But in this case I guess there was also the outsider Western angle – delivering up something we think is fine, but does not accord with Chinese notions of respect and loss of face. Always politics I think in these situations.

  2. Seemingly, Mao is something of a god like figure for the Chinese, and it seems to me nearly impossible that they could understand the light headed attitude of Warhol. But all the same, both east and west are curious about other cultures, and willing to learn from others… though sometimes with great reservations.

    1. Yes, I am sure you are right, Shimon. Warhol’s renditions of Mao would seem flippant. As you say too, east and west do seem to be observing one another with rather more interest than antagonism. It will be an interesting process over the coming decades.

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