Mao Tse Tung
The Van Abbemuseum Collection consists of over 2800 artworks. We publish texts and images on an ongoing basis, but this record is currently in the process of being documented.
The Van Abbemuseum has three screenprints by the American artist Andy Warhol showing a portrait of the former Chinese leader Mao Tse Tung. The photograph which serves as the starting point, an official state portrait, has been greatly enlarged and printed with a strong light and dark contrast which creates heavy shadows, so that the nuances disappear. The prints are very different in colour. Warhol always used bright, strongly contrasting or mismatching colours together and the colours are partly printed one over the other. As they are not even, the colours underneath remain visible. Black lines have been drawn on Mao’s coat and in the background in different places in every print.
Andy Warhol started making paintings in 1960s after first working as an advertising draftsman. He painted enlargements of advertisements and comic strips. His work corresponded with that of other American artists who had used their everyday environment, particularly the omnipresent consumer articles and advertisements, as their subject since the late 1950s. The figurative work of these artists, including Lichtenstein, Oldenburg, and Rosenquist, contrasted strongly with the prevailing Abstract Expressionism. Instead of the subjective and emotional quality which characterized that movement, they presented an impersonal art based on popular culture, i.e., Pop Art. These pop art artists often used industrial reproduction techniques such as screen-printing and they did not always execute their work themselves.
Warhol’s work contains representations of very different things, such as soup cans, famous people, car accidents, or dollar signs. What they have in common is their appearance in the popular media such as newspapers, magazines or in roadside advertisements. From 1962, Warhol used the silkscreen printing technique to make his work. In one image he often repeated the motif that was chosen, allowing small variations in colour, either arbitrarily or planned. He also often worked in series, such as the Mao Tse Tung series. These three prints are part of a series of ten which are all different. Warhol neutralized the subject with the principle of repetition or by working with variations. The loud, unnatural colours he used add to this flattened effect, both visually and in terms of content, and consequently the persons being depicted become less spatial, less realistic and therefore less personal – they have become products.
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