By way of Instagram and a showing in Hong Kong, Sotheby’s unveiled yet another blockbuster consignment for the upcoming fall contemporary season, Andy Warhol Mao, an 82-by-57-inch silkscreen executed in 1972.
The work, which is expected to realize $40 million at Sotheby’s evening contemporary sale on November 11, is the earliest iteration of the cycle that marked Warhol’s return to painting after a seven-year hiatus following his “Flowers” series.
In the book Holy Terror, longtime Warhol friend and Interview editor Bob Colacello described the origin of the Mao paintings. “It began with an idea from Bruno Bischofberger, who had been pushing Andy to go back to painting…. Bruno’s idea was that Andy should paint the most important figure of the twentieth century.”
Albert Einstein was suggested for the impact of his Theory of Relativity in both precipitating “technological richness and technological terror”; however by this point, Warhol had already conceived of Mao Zedong: “That’s a good idea,” Colacello recalled Warhol saying. “But I was just reading in Life magazine that the most famous person in the world today is Chairman Mao. Shouldn’t it be the most famous person, Bruno?”
According to Sotheby’s, “at the hands of the Pop master, the official representation of the Chairman used for the dissemination of Communism was turned into a commodity of the Capitalist economy, no more consequential than a can of Campbell’s Soup.” Sotheby’s further said the painting is one of the most important versions of the series remaining in private hands. The consignor was not identified.
Currently the highest price at auction for a Warhol Mao painting is $17.4 million, set at Christie’s New York in November 2006 for a similar size and color Mao that was also executed in 1972. It had been estimated to sell for $8-$12 million.