Sotheby’s Contemporary Art Evening Sale on 11 November 2015 will include Andy Warhol’s Mao, one of the most important versions of the series remaining in private hands. Created in 1972, the towering 82×57 inch silk-screen is the earliest iteration of the cycle that marked Warhol’s dramatic return to painting in 1972. With the historic visit of President Richard Nixon in 1971 Chairman Mao was among the most prominent figures in the world at the time. By recreating the endlessly reproduced official portrait, the artist continued the absorption with celebrity that had seen him work with likenesses of figures such as Marilyn Monroe and Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. Mao is estimated in the region of $40 million and is currently on view in Hong Kong before exhibitions in London and New York.
After an eight-year hiatus following the success of his Flowers, Andy Warhol announced his return to painting in 1972 with a series of daring works subverting the official portrait of Mao Zedong. As the image that both hangs in Tiananmen Square as well as serving as the frontispiece of the ‘Little Red Book’ – the ubiquitous collection of Mao’s quotations; the portrait became a representation of absolute political power. Yet, at the hands of the Pop master, the official representation of the Chairman used for the dissemination of Communism was turned into a commodity of the Capitalist economy, no more consequential than a can of Campbell’s Soup.
With the monumental scale, remarkable clarity in the execution of the silk screening with bright red lips, unblemished facial outline and the bold, sharp shirt collar, the current example is considered at the pinnacle of Warhol’s Mao paintings.