Tuesday, May 08, 2012

Research Spotlight: Warhol's Mao

The following post comes from Amy Arnold, a curatorial intern in my department who will be graduating this summer with a BA in Art History and a BFA in painting.
                                  LIFE Magazine Cover, 3 March 1972

In preparation for an exciting exhibition opening at GMOA this August, some of my fellow interns and I have been researching the collection of prints known as the “New York Collection for Stockholm” portfolio. The portfolio was created as a fundraising initiative in 1973 to make it possible for the New York-based group Experiments in Art and Technology (E.A.T.) to donate a collection of American contemporary art to the Moderna Museet in Stockholm. The E.A.T. initiative focused on collaborations between artists and engineers in an effort to stimulate inventive technological growth and to explore creative applications of technology.

Of all the research we have done on the portfolio, perhaps our most exciting find concerns a print by Andy Warhol. Known for his fascination with fame, Warhol had begun using Mao imagery in his work after the Chinese dictator was referred to as the most famous person in the world in a Life magazine article from 1972. That same year, the artist began creating his Mao portraits, which were based on the leader’s official Chinese state portrait.

Before GMOA acquired its own copy of the portfolio, all that we knew about the Warhol came from the captions and labels produced by other museums that owned the print; almost no scholarship exists on it. What we generally understood was that it was an image created by Xerox copying. You can imagine our surprise when this is what we found upon opening the portfolio for the first time.
Andy Warhol, 
Mao, 1973, from the "New York Collection for Stockholm" portfolio, 
xerograph on paper,
 GMOA (accession number pending)

It resembles nothing of Mao—at least at first glance. Somewhat confused, we continued our research. As we delved deeper into the imprints in the collections of other museums, we discovered that, in fact, only a handful of the impressions actually resembled the Chinese dictator at all. The typical description of the work’s medium is “sequentially reproduced Xerox print,” meaning the prints were created by making a copy of Warhol’s original drawing of Mao, then using that copy to create another copy, and so on, degrading the clarity of the original image with each copy. We also discovered that the image was being distorted in two other ways: through enlargement and rotation. This distortion is evident in a side-by-side comparison of several editions of the Mao print.
Various editions of Andy Warhol’s Mao for the "New York Collection for Stockholm" portfolio

The edition numbers shown here are from the portfolios that were sold to the public in order to raise funds for the New York Collection at Moderna Museet. GMOA’s edition of the print is somewhat special. It comes from an edition numbered only to 31, which were reserved as publisher’s copies and were not initially for sale. For that reason, the GMOA Mao print, numbered 22/31, is even more distorted than edition 293/300, above. By collecting these images of other Mao editions, we were able to determine that GMOA’s print is a close-up and rotated view of Mao’s upper lip, just under his right nostril.  

The exhibition, The New York Collection for Stockholm, will be on view at GMOA from August 18–November 3, 2012. In addition to Andy Warhol, the show also features Walter de Maria, Jim Dine, Mark di Suvero, Dan Flavin, Red Grooms, Donald Judd, Ellsworth Kelly, Sol Lewitt, Louise Nevelson, Claes Oldenburg, Nam June Paik, Robert Rauschenberg, and Cy Twombly, to name a few.

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