A private Asian collector bought an Andy Warhol portrait of Chairman Mao for $12.6 million yesterday (April 2) at an art sale, Sotheby’s auction house said. A spokesman for Sotheby’s declined to provide more details regarding the buyer’s identity.
The painting was one of a series of 28 portraits the pop artist made in 1973, shortly after Richard Nixon’s trip to China. The portraits subverted a communist icon into a commercial one, and later a wave of Chinese artists also looked to Mao for inspiration.
There was speculation ahead of the sale about whether a Chinese collector would bid for the work, given the increasing sensitivity about Mao’s image in mainland China in recent years (Hong Kong has a more relaxed attitude to admitting to owning Mao art or displaying it).
The price didn’t mark much of an increase from its 2014 London sale, also to an unnamed collector (before that, in 2000, the painting changed hands for a mere $632,218). But it’s still beyond the reach of a more penurious millionaire, say someone with just a few millions to their name.
The number of people in the Asia-Pacific region who could afford to buy this painting is probably just around 40,000 or so, based on the number of “ultra high net-worth” people, or those with more than $30 million in assets to invest.