Monday, 17 December 2012

Mao Won't be in China

Silkscreen portraits of Mao Tse-tung by Andy Warhol
One of the biggest art exhibitions in Asia that started yesterday at the Hong Kong Museum of Art and will travel for 26 months is called "Andy Warhol: 15 Minutes Eternal".

The show which marks the 25th anniversary of the pop artist's death, features over 300 paintings, photographs and films that include iconic images of Campbell Soup cans, Jackie Kennedy and Marilyn Monroe.

Portraits of Mao Tse-tung are also synonymous with Warhol and are included in the exhibition, but the Chinese government doesn't seem to agree.

The 10 paintings of the Chinese leader were rejected by the Ministry of Culture and won't be shown in the Shanghai and Beijing legs of the exhibition.

"They said the Maos won't work," said Eric Shiner, director of The Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh, at the Hong Kong opening. "This is disappointing because his imagery is so mainstream in Chinese contemporary art."

The show has already visited Singapore with some 175,000 people going through the exhibition, and the Hong Kong Museum of Art is extending its hours in anticipation of a lot of art fans checking out the Warhol works.

We can't help but be amused by the Chinese government's decision not to include Mao in a major international art exhibition when it it shown in the mainland.

While there is a simmering debate about how much of Mao's writings should continue to influence the Communist Party of China, his portrait still hangs above the Tiananmen Gate leading to the Forbidden City.

What is wrong with the Chinese seeing or perhaps discovering for the first time how the leader of modern China influenced an American artist in creating his signature style?

Are Chinese officials afraid there is some kind of subversive message in the art work? Or they think Mao doesn't belong in an American art exhibition?

In any event we pity those in China who will have 10 less pieces of art to see that are so connected with Warhol and the pop art movement.

What's also interesting is that this development was not covered in Chinese state media, which makes one wonder if those visiting the Beijing and Shanghai exhibitions will even notice or know the Mao paintings won't be there.

Censorship is still alive and well in China...

Andy Warhol: 15 Minutes Eternal
Hong Kong Museum of Art
December 16, 2012 - March 31, 2013

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