Twenty-five years after his death, Andy Warhol remains controversial — more so in some parts of the world than others. His largest-ever traveling exhibition is coming to Asia, but during the China leg, his iconic Mao portraits will remain under wraps. As Bloomberg reports:
A person familiar with the show, who asked not to be named because of the political sensitivity of the issue, confirmed the Mao works had been rejected by the Ministry of Culture. The Ministry of Culture and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs didn’t immediately respond to faxed questions seeking comment today.
Warhol painted the Maos after President Richard Nixon’s visit to China in 1972, and he meant no disrespect, said Eric Shiner, director of The Andy Warhol Museum. Shiner also told Bloomberg, “They said the Maos won’t work. This is disappointing because his imagery is so mainstream in Chinese contemporary art.”
Funny, isn’t it, how a ministry of culture can act so philistine. But China’s culture is one that serves to bolster the past, not redefine the future. There’s 5,000 years of inertia that won’t be easily overcome. “The first condition of progress is the removal of censorship,” George Bernard Shaw wrote in Mrs. Warren’s Profession, but what if everyone, while paying lip service to progress, is actually scared of it?
A time will come when China gets its own Andy Warhol. Until then, people will have to settle for his Hong Kong exhibition, 15 Minutes Eternal.
POSTSCRIPT: In 1982, Warhol visited China with photographer Christopher Makos, manager Fred Hughes, English aristocrat Natasha Grenfell (Hughes’s girlfriend), and documentary maker Lee Caplin. The trip was sponsored by wealthy collector Alfred Sui. Here they are:
The Chinese authorities are still giant fucking babies, color me shocked.
Warhol’s “pop art” served to reflect the hypnotic depthlessness and infinite reproducibility of modern culture and its icons, and thereby expose its fundamental operation.
This is why the authorities in China do not want Warhol’s Maos exhibited in China.
We cannot have the slaves here thinking that Mao today is nothing more a sanitized simulation reproduced on an industrial scale by cynical power, can we?
I used a portrait in an episode of my show that I produce for China Radio International, which is as state-y as state media gets here.
There was a small controversy centered around my computer screen, but I was convincing enough to make them let it through.
I wonder now if they will take it down? Just kidding, no one cares.