Andy Warhol’s Mao (1973) reaches $12.9m

Sotheby’s sold Andy Warhol’s Mao (1973) for $12.9m in an April 2 contemporary art auction in Hong Kong.

The canvas is one of 200 portraits Warhol produced of the Chinese communist leader.

Chairman Mao Sothebys

Chairman Mao is a hugely divisive figure in China 

It last sold for £7.6m ($9.4m) in London in 2014, indicating that there has been little slowdown in the demand for Warhol’s work.

Warhol’s decision to use Mao as his subject caused controversy both in China and the west, although for different reasons.

The Chinese government was concerned that Warhol’s repurposing of Mao’s iconic portrait could be interpreted as mocking, while some commentators in the west were uneasy at the supposed glorifying of a dictatorial leader.

Ultimately, the piece has come to be seen as one of Warhol’s most nuanced works.

As Sotheby’s has it: “If Warhol can be regarded as an artist of strategy, his choice of Mao as a subject - as the ultimate star - was brilliant.

"A ready-made icon representing absolute political and cultural power. In Warhol's hands, this image could be considered ominously and universally threatening, or a parody or both.”   

The painting was acquired by an anonymous Asian collector.

Today Mao’s image is controversial in mainland China given his legacy of terrible human rights abuses, although he is still admired by a significant swathe of the population for his role in modernising the country.

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