POP ART & THE COLD WAR II: Andy Warhol’s Mao

Andy Warhol consistently made use of imagery related to Communism, the Cold War, and Marxism throughout his career.

In 1972, President Richard Nixon made a historic state visit to China, where he met with Communist Party Chairman Mao Zedong. The summit established diplomatic ties between the two nations and inaugurated a series of cultural exchanges. In 1973, Warhol began an extensive series of paintings and prints based on the official portrait of Chairman Mao, visible everywhere in China at the time.

Responding to Mao’s vanity and global fame, Warhol used the format and style of his commissioned portraits of socialites, celebrities, and capitalist entrepreneurs to depict the ascetic Communist leader. The plain grey worker’s clothing and neutral background are transformed by beautifully-harmonized colors and extravagant, painterly brushwork, while the impassive face is given a makeover. Taken as a whole, the sumptuous and glamorous Mao paintings were the most unabashedly beautiful images Warhol had made to date.

Warhol also used Mao’s image as a wall paper design, his official reason being that Mao rhymed with cow, the image used in Warhol’s first foray into wallpaper design in 1965.

Warhol visited China in 1982, where to his surprise, no one knew who he was.

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