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Lunch at The Great Wall; an afternoon of sight-seeing in the capital; a dinner engagement at a Peking Duck restaurant; only a tentative entry to 'meet with Chinese artists' suggests that this visitor's itinerary was any different from your average Beijing sightseer. Yet this tour plan, on show in Shanghai at the moment, alongside photographs from the trip, documents Andy Warhol first and only trip to mainland China in November 1982, with his friend the photographer Christopher Makos.
Their four-day break was arranged, as an extension to a Hong Kong visit, where Warhol and Makos had gone to open a nightclub. The Industrialist Alfred Siu and the current director of LA's MOCA Jeffrey Deitch – then an art adviser at Citibank – had arranged for the pair to come to HK, and offered them a trip to the Chinese capital as a kind of thank-you.
The event doesn't feature highly in Warhol's life and work; yet it is tantalising to think about what the master of modern iconography and mass-produced art made of Mao's regimented land. On hearing that Beijingers didn't have McDonald's restaurants yet, Warhol is reported to have said “Oh, but they will."
Indeed, Warhol had been ruminating on The Middle Kingdom for sometime. In his diaries of 1971 he records: “I have been reading so much about China. They’re so nutty. They don’t believe in creativity. The only picture they ever have is of Mao Zedong. It’s great. It looks like a silkscreen.”
While his take on The People's Republic of China might have lacked nuance, he certainly knew a contemporary icon when he saw one, and unveiled his Mao series three years later.
This new exhibition, Warhol In China, running at the Elisabeth de Brabant Art Centre in Shanghai until August 30, doesn't include any such screen prints; instead it brings together Makos' photographs from the trip, alongside other tourist ephemera. The gallery has paired material from the Warhol trip with Makos' photographs of the glitzy downtown scene of the same period, so shots of Mick Jagger and Jean Michel Basquiat hang alongside images of images of Tiananmen Square. For a view of both Eastern and Western culture it sounds hard to beat.
Find our more about the exhibition go here. To learn more about Warhol's incredible life and great work, take a look at our peerless Warhol books, put together in close collaboration with the artist's foundation; for a greater insight into Oriental art, old and new, we recommend pre-ordering The Chinese Art Book.