June 06, 2006:

[achtung! kunst] *mao-market* : Own a Mao original... bids start at £8 0,000

telegraoh, 19/05/2006
Own a Mao original... bids start at £80,000
By Richard Spencer in Beijing

For years it was the single most copied piece of art in China - the
portrait of Chairman Mao that hung over the symbolic centre of his
empire, Tiananmen Square.

Now, in an adaptation to the market place typical of modern China, the
prototype has resurfaced and is to be sold at auction. Its guide price
is £80,000.

[image] Portrait of Mao. The painting by Zhang Zhenshi will be auctioned

The painting, by Zhang Zhenshi, was one of a series commissioned after
the People's Liberation Army swept to power in 1949. The others, none of
which is known still to exist, were of fellow Chinese communist leaders
such as Zhou Enlai, Mao's premier, and mentors of the revolution such as
Marx and Stalin.

"This picture was the most printed one of Mao during the 1950s and early
60s," said Li Xiaohan, the vice-manager of Beijing Huachen Auction
House, which is to sell the work on June 3. "It is in a series of
historically themed art pieces in this auction. Last year we had a
similar series called Red Classics.

"It was extremely successful, with over 100 pieces sold, including two
of Mao painted in the 1980s which sold for 4 million yuan (£275,000)."

Zhang's first portrait of Mao was hung over Tiananmen - the Gate of
Heavenly Peace, from which the square takes its name - on May 1, 1949,
five months before the People's Republic was formally declared.

He is shown wearing a blue-grey version of what became known as a Mao
suit, though in China it is known as a Sun Yat-sen suit, after the
president of the first Chinese republic who devised it.

Zhang, who died 14 years ago at the age of 78, was a teacher at the
National Art Training School when the PLA swept into Beijing.

What is unclear is how such an iconic piece of art came on to the
private market. Miss Li said it was being offered for sale by an
overseas Chinese, whose identity was secret.

But the Cultural Revolution, followed by subsequent wild-west
capitalism, have seen world markets flooded with Chinese art. This
ranges from Maoist memorabilia to Ming vases stolen from the Forbidden City.

Miss Li said: "Back then, no artists thought to keep their own works.
China's art auction market was initiated in the mid-90s and by then
works like this were not owned by the government. Anyone who was willing
to pay for it could buy it."

The auction house said a guide price of 1.2 million yuan (£80,000) had
been set for the painting. It is 36in by 27in, a sizeable portrait but
tiny beside the pictures hung at the square, which are 36ft high.

Such portraits are not as common these days, though many city squares
still have an inspirational statue, arm raised, at their heart.

Officially, the government ended the personality cult surrounding Mao in
1981 with the admission that he had made grievous mistakes, particularly
in the Cultural Revolution, but it never removed his philosophy's
central place in the governing ideology.

His body remains on show in the middle of Tiananmen Square, despite
calls by dissidents for it to be removed.



with kind regards,

Matthias Arnold (Art-Eastasia list)



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