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Feb 20: Warhol’s Mao


We Americans didn’t have to live under Mao Tse Tung, so we find the fawning propaganda extolling him merely ridiculous:

“March forward to victory along the revolutionary road of art and literature created by chairman Mao”

Not that we in the West were waiting around for the Chinese to teach us about fatuous imagery and gross sucking up:

Rubens: The Apotheosis of Henry IV and the Proclamation of the Regency of Marie de Medicis       1610     (w’pedia)

But even if it can’t compete with Rubens, Mao worship was grotesque enough that when Andy Warhol converted its hero into a pop icon ala Marilyn Monroe, we chuckled. We still do.

It seems a little creepy that we are able to. Mao was responsible for how many deaths? Fifty million? Seventy?–besides much other evil. He’s solidly in Hitler’s league. But Warhol didn’t try to get us to laugh at Hitler.

Warhol: Mao 5      1970        (
Warhol: Turquoise Marilyn 1962 (












Perhaps our reaction to Mao is possible because events in China during that era were remote from American life, whereas Hitler was and still is in the foreground of our consciousness. You can’t imagine collectors throwing a party to show off their new red-lipped Hitler Warhol. But Mao’s oppressions didn’t involve us. We perceive his villainy as bad enough to license mockery, but not so intense that it spoils the fun. The translation from laughable Big Kahuna to absurdist Fashion Art Object seems no more than a saucy joke.

Warhol’s Mao overlooking Christie’s
Zhang Zhenshi’s Mao overlooking Tiananmen Square (W’pedia)


















This post is a reprise from November, 2011.