A California College Is Hunting for Its Missing Warhol ‘Mao’ Print

The work is valued at $50,000.

Andy Warhol's Mao 7 on view at the Sotheby's in London, 2006. Photo: Carl de Souza / AFP via Getty Images.

An Andy Warhol print of Mao Zedong has been reported as missing from the vault of Orange Coast College’s art gallery.

On March 13, Frank M. Doyle Art Pavilion’s staff noticed the print was missing while conducting a routine inventory check. The executive director, Doug Bennett, then led an internal search to find out if the print had been moved.

The search at the Orange County, California, institution led to nothing. On March 20, Bennett contacted Orange Coast College’s administration, which in turn informed the Costa Mesa Police Department. The police are now investigating the case alongside Orange Coast College’s Campus Public Safety officers.

Although Bennett is hopeful the missing Warhol is the result of a misunderstanding, entering the vault requires a key card and a punch code combination. Few staff members, Bennett noted, have a key card to the vault. The police said the vault showed no sign of having been forced open.

Staff said the print is no.187 out of 215 and was signed by Warhol in ballpoint pen. It was gifted to Orange Coast College by an anonymous donor who acquired it in 1974. When it was donated in 2020, it was valued at $50,000.

The work has never been exhibited at the Frank M. Doyle Arts Pavilion and indeed Bennett acknowledged that few people knew Orange Coast College held the work.

A man, artist Andy Warhol, standing in a gallery installed with his portraits of Mao Zedong.

Andy Warhol at an exhibition of 200 Mao portraits at the Museum Galliéra. Photo: Raymond Mahut / INA via Getty Images.

Forever obsessed with celebrity, Warhol turned his silkscreen gaze on Chairman Mao in 1972 and 1973 following President Richard Nixon’s trip to China, which signaled a thawing of relations between the U.S. and China. He took as his basis the photograph of Mao that had been widely disseminated throughout China during the Cultural Revolution.

“I have been reading so much about China. They’re so nutty. They don’t believe in creativity,” he once mused about Chinese politics, a year before he embarked on the portrait series. “The only picture they ever have is of Mao Zedong. It’s great. It looks like a silkscreen.”

In all, he created 199 silkscreen paintings across five scales and a broad range of colors. The record auction price for a Warhol Mao painting is $47.5 million, courtesy of a 2015 Sotheby’s sale in New York.

“If someone has it and returns it we won’t ask a whole lot of questions,” Bennett said. “If it shows up on the doorstep of the police station, that’s fine.”

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