Andy Warhol’s painting of Mao sells for $47.5M

World Today

Silkscreen by Andy Warhol, 1972. (Photo by Sothebys)

A painting of Chinese leader Mao Zedong by famed 1960s pop artist Andy Warhol sold for $47.5 million, including fees, on Wednesday, marking a record for the artist’s series on Mao.

The acrylic and silkscreen ink on canvas was part auction house Sotheby’s contemporary art evening sale and was purchased by an unknown telephone bidder, the New York Times reported. The previous highest price at auction for a Warhol Mao painting was $17.4 million in 2006, according to Artnet.

The painting that sold on Wednesday was owned by money manager Steven A. Cohen, who acquired it in 2007, according to Bloomberg Business. It had previously sold for about $1 million two decades ago, Bloomberg said.

The painting is simply titled “MAO” and is signed by Warhol on the reverse side and measures 6.8 feet by 4.8 feet (2 mebers by 1.4 meters) and has been exhibited in a handful of occasions. It is among only 11 paintings Warhol made of Mao and was painted from March-May in 1972.

It was conceived just after President Nixon’s historic trip to China in Feb. 1972, though Warhol had the idea as soon as Nixon televised his announcement to visit China in 1971, according to Sotheby’s.

“This series announced Warhol’s return to painting with tremendous force and conceptual brilliance,” Sotheby’s auction description of the painting said.

“Without the aid of a studio assistant… Warhol took on the technical challenge of wielding a single screen spanning in excess of 6 feet. Dragging a squeegee loaded with printing ink across this expansive screen and onto canvas would undoubtedly have been tricky; indeed, the particular aesthetic of this series takes its character from the irregularities of Warhol’s one-man manufacture.”

Many have wondered if the buyer of the painting is in China, writes Sotheby’s blogger Chiu-Ti Jansen.

“Warhol’s own visit and only visit to China in 1982, where he posed in front of the Tiananmen Square against an official monumental portrait of Mao, caused hardly any sensation in China,” Jansen wrote.

“But his works opened a myriad of aesthetic possibilities for contemporary Chinese artists such as Zeng Fanzhi, Wang Guangyi, Xue Song, Li Shan, Ai Weiwei and Yu Youhan, who have created their own versions of new Mao iconography.”

Several Warhol prints of Mao will also be up for auction Nov. 24-25. They are estimated at $30,000-$50,000 each.