Warhol's Mao won't be headed to China

Bloomberg is reporting (via the Beijing Cream blog) that Andy Warhol's famous Mao prints won't be on display during the Beijing stop of a traveling retrospective of the artist's work: 

“They said the Maos won’t work,” Eric Shiner, director of The Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh, said in an interview in Hong Kong. “This is disappointing because his imagery is so mainstream in Chinese contemporary art.”

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.

Chinese art lovers still have until march to make the trip to Hong Kong, where the exhibit -- including the Maos -- is currently on display. 

Warhol was not a particularly political artist and was more interested in Mao's status as a cultural icon than his actions or ideas. But some of China's more daring contemporary artists have obviously been inspired by him. Ai Weiwei's painting of a Coca-Cola logo on a Han dynasty vase is an obvious Warhol homage. There's also pop art influence the work of the Gao brothers, whose most famous works depict Chairman Mao in a variety of compromising positions, including "as a kneeling penitent, with giant breasts, a detachable head, and in one of their most famous works, as a firing squad of clones about to execute Jesus Christ. "

China's not the only place where artists have used pop art for political means. The North Korean propaganda painter-turned-satirist Song Byeok, who I had the chance to speak to earlier this year, has incorporated a variety of Warholian imagery into his mocking portraits of Kim Jong Il, including Marilyn Monroe and Campbell's Soup Cans.

So while Warhol may never have intended his prints as a criticism of the Chairman, the authorities may not want any more subversive artists getting ideas. 


Newtown vs. Guangshan: the Chinese perspective

For many Americans, there's a sense that the United States has not fared well in the comparisons inevitably invited by the attacks that occurred on the same day in elementary schools in Newtown, Connecticut and Guangshan, China. In Newtown, 20 children were killed. In Guangshan, 22 may have lost fingers, or ears, but they survived.

"That's the difference between a knife and a gun," wrote James Fallows in the Atlantic. Writing on Salon, Mei Fong asked "what good is freedom of speech and a democratic system, when these rights can't prevent the slaughter of innocents?"

But the societal soul-searching on the Chinese side has focused more on the aftermath of the tragic attacks, and many, including some state-owned media, have voiced admiration for the humanity and compassion displayed by U.S. public officials following the attacks, as well as the transparency with which the Sandy Hook shooting has been handled.

In a story headlined "Anger at attack response" published Monday, the typically nationalist Global Times newspaper reported that no local officials have visited the Guangshan hospital where many of the injured children have been treated, while a report from Xinhua, noting that no village officials could be located after the attack and that the only employee to be found was playing video games has prompted widespread disdain.

Xinhua also reported that news of the attack at Guangshan, in which a man knifed 22 children in central Henan Province, was initially deleted from the website of the local party committee, and that a news conference on the attack planned by the local government for Saturday was cancelled without explanation. The China-watching site Tea Leaf Nation notes that the names of the children injured in the attack have yet to be released.

Meanwhile, Chinese internet users have watched the aftereffects of the two tragedies play out with disapproval.

"We know much about the American killer, even his family and childhood, but know little about the Chinese suspect," wrote Weibo user and writer Zheng Yuanjie.

"In an instant, information about the deadly gun attack in an American school that claimed 28 victims blanketed Chinese media," wrote economist Han Zhiguo. "On the same day, there was a campus attack in Henan province's Guangshan county, in which 22 students were injured with could only find information about it on Weibo. Was mainstream media's difference attitudes [toward the two incidents ] because Chinese children's lives aren't valuable?"

The perspectives generated by these same-day tragedies on contrasting societal strengths and weaknesses may be interesting to note; still, it's worth remembering that neither society's grass is looking particularly green at the moment.

H/t Tea Leaf Nation

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