Andy Warhol | Mao: Andipa, London

7 - 20 January 2009

‘The only picture they have is of Mao Zedong. It’s great. It looks like a silkscreen.’ Andy Warhol

This exhibition displays the complete collection of Warhol’s ten screen prints. Typical of Warhol’s other screen print series, each print is a repeated image of Chairman Mao plastered with different flamboyant colours and dynamic marks. Obsessed with the cult of Mao, Warhol was drawn to the unavoidable omnipresence of one of history’s most recognisable faces. The colours and technique are emblematic of Warhol’s aesthetic, reminiscent of his other series such of Hollywood stars. Warhol is playful with his use of colour, using it to suggests hints of lipstick and eyeshadow on a figure of serious political status. The series transforms a highly powerful dictator into a kitschy and camp 1970s pop icon, posing the question – is there any difference between the cult of fame and the cult of celebrity?

Warhol coincided the creation of his Mao series with President Nixon’s highly political and publicised meeting with Chairman Mao Zedong in communist China in 1972. This historic event ended years of diplomatic detachment between the two nations. The series can be read as a manifestation of Warhol’s obsession with fame and celebrity. His use of one of the most recognisable images of the century; the portrait of Mao reproduced extensively across China throughout the Cultural Revolution (1966–76), draws seemingly contradictory parallels between the power of Communist political propaganda and that of advertising in a Capitalist state. Warhol’s distinctive lens not only transforms a historical and influential portrait, but also our perception of arts relationship with propaganda, power and pop culture. The ‘Mao series’ is a testament to Warhol’s capacity to blend artistic ingenuity with cultural commentary. The silkscreen process underscores the inescapable repetition of a propaganda machine whilst the gaudy colours and expressionistic touches elicits reflection on the dynamic between political power and the visual language of capitalist advertising in a consumer culture.

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