Day By Day© by Chris Muir.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Good pop art transcends murderous political ideologies

Proving that cultural relativism kills common decency, Mao's portrait continues to grace a Danish museum because it just shows how Andy Warhol, the artist viewed the world. It therefore doesn't matter that Mao was one of the greatest murderers of all time, since he's simply being paired right up there with a Coca Cola can, also courtesy of Warhol:

If a good artist painted a heroic portrait of Hitler or Stalin, Louisiana's director Poul Erik Tøjner would not dream of buying it. Nevertheless, Denmark's most celebrated museum of modern art sports a vibrantly coloured and surreally priced portrait of Mao Zedong. Daily newspaper Jyllands-Posten criticised the museum in northern Zealand for displaying the portrait, which it said featured the third of the 20th century's big tyrants, who already had millions of human lives on his conscience by the time Warhol painted his picture in 1972. Tøjner said, however, that he had no intention of moving Mao from Louisiana's walls nor equipping it with a plaque describing his misdeeds. 'Andy Warhol's painting doesn't hang at Louisiana because we want to idolise Mao. If you have read the Black Book of Communism or had the faintest idea about what has been said of him in the media, you know that everything that happened during his regime was plainly horrific,' Tøjner said, adding that the reason why the museum displayed the portrait was Warhol's unique way of reflecting the idolisations of his time. 'We have one of his Coca Cola pictures hanging right by Mao's side, and that doesn't mean we think it is the best company in the world. It's impossible to say whether Warhol and the other pop artists were fascinated or critical, but a reflective onlooker gets plenty to think about when Mao hangs by Coca Cola's side. Just think that this tyrant, who killed millions of people, has circulated as an icon on par with Coca Cola. I think that gives the painting a dimension of shame,' Tøjner said.
Warhol at least had the excuse that, when he painted the picture in 1972, the West's eyes had no been opened to the horrors Mao had visited on his own people. With that information currently in hand, however, the fact that Warhol was a popular artist does not justify rewarding Mao's memory by giving his brilliantly colored image pride of place in a museum. What struck me as particularly creepy was the museum director's casual ability simultaneously to acknowledge what an evil guy Mao was and to say a picture's just a picture:
Tøjner, however, said he found Mao looking almost comical, as the artist's decision to paint him with a red mouth rendered him almost feminine. Tøjner said he was certain that Mao had hated the portrait. He added that Warhol's artistic expression had always been cool and distant. 'The painting doesn't address the question whether Mao was kind or cruel, but it reveals his status as an icon,' Tøjner said, adding that he had received letters criticising the museum for having the dictator's portrait on display. 'I wouldn't recommend that we hung pictures of Mao all about in Danish society. It wouldn't work in a bank or in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, but an art museum, which we visit as critical onlookers, can remind us of Western's culture's strange capability of exalting a man like Mao. The museum is a free space,' Tøjner said.
Yup, the museum is clearly a "free space" -- free of common decency and morality, that is.