June 06, 2006:

[achtung! kunst] *mao-market* A Mao Portrait on the Block Causes a Stir in Chat Rooms

nyt, may 22, 2006
A Mao Portrait on the Block Causes a Stir in Chat Rooms

In a decision that is stirring wide debate in Chinese Internet chat
rooms, a Chinese-American collector plans to sell a renowned official
portrait of Mao at auction in Beijing on June 3.

Some argue that the 1950 portrait, the model for a big painting of Mao
in Tiananmen Square, should go to a national museum.

The owner has not been identified. The state-controlled Huachen Auction
Company in Beijing has said the auction is open to anyone, and that the
buyer would be allowed to take the painting outside the country. The
auction house estimates that it will sell for at least $120,000.

The work is by Zhang Zhenshi, one of 30 artists commissioned to paint
Mao's portrait in 1950 on the first anniversary of the founding of the
People's Republic of China. The 36-by-27-inch image of a somber-looking
Mao wearing his trademark gray suit was later copied for the larger work
in Tiananmen Square, which is regularly retouched or updated by a
variety of artists.

The auction comes at a sensitive time, near the June 4 anniversary of
the 1989 pro-democracy demonstrations in Tiananmen Square. It also falls
in the 40th anniversary year of the Cultural Revolution, when Mao
encouraged students to join Red Guard units and rebel against teachers
and intellectuals. Many people died in the purges that followed and
estimated millions were forced into manual labor in a decade of upheaval
that ended only with Mao's death in 1976.

The market for recent Chinese art is booming: in late March a small oil
painting by one of China's best-known artists, Zhang Xiaogang, sold for
just under $1 million, nearly three times its estimate, at Sotheby's in
New York, at a Chinese-dominated sale of contemporary Asian art that
totaled $13.2 million. And auctions here of traditional and avant-garde
artists, including Wang Guangyi, Fang Lijun, Yue Minjun and Xu Bing, are
bringing huge prices, often more than $150,000 for a single work.

But portraits of Mao are still a sensitive political issue in China.
Although many political leaders have talked about Mao's excesses, the
imitation of the original portrait still hangs in Tiananmen Square, and
long lines of people still show up every day, often waiting hours, to
view Mao's preserved body at the Mao mausoleum just off the square.

Several of China's best-known artists have followed Warhol's lead and
incorporated Mao's portrait into their works to make social and
political statements, and some of the more radical portrayals have been
banned from exhibition here. Government officials in Beijing recently
ordered several works removed from art shows because they crossed the
line of what was deemed permissible. Among them was a painting by Gao
Qiang that featured a sickly looking Mao swimming in a blood-red Yangtze

Mao's likeness is believed to be one of the most widely reproduced
images in the world, and some artists here say the official portrait by
Zhang, who died in 1992, is China's "Mona Lisa." How a Chinese-American
acquired it is unclear.

"I strongly oppose the auction of Chairman Mao's portrait because it is
neither a mere piece of artistic work nor a commercial activity," one
person wrote on the Internet, according to The People's Daily, the
Communist Party's official newspaper. "Mao Zedong is the spirit of our
great nation."

Another wrote: "How dare they do such a thing! If they sold Mao's
portrait today, they will sold the Tiananmen Rostrum the other day."

People's Daily said that Sina.com. a popular Web portal here, has had
more than 18,000 posts in recent days opposing the auction of the portrait.

Huachen spokesmen say Mao's portrait will be available for viewing by
potential buyers from May 31 to June 2.




with kind regards,

Matthias Arnold (Art-Eastasia list)



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