Warhol “Mao” Screenprint Mysteriously Missing From California School

A signed Andy Warhol screenprint of Chinese Communist leader Mao Zedong is mysteriously missing from a California collection. The 1972 artwork was last seen in a secure vault located in Orange Coast College’s (OCC) Frank M. Doyle Arts Pavilion before workers reported the piece unaccounted for on March 13. 

After conducting an internal investigation, the school’s campus safety department sent out an alert to the OCC community on March 20 asking for help. The Costa Mesa Police Department (CMPD) is currently investigating the case.

“I don’t know how many people knew that there was a Mao print in the vault,” Juan Gutierrez, OCC’s director of marketing and public relations, told Hyperallergic, adding that the work has never been displayed.

“I think there were plans to either sell it or make it part of a bigger exhibition, but we only have the one Warhol, so we couldn’t actually do a Warhol exhibition with just one,” Gutierrez said.

Gifted to the school’s foundation in 2020 via an anonymous donor, the multicolored portraits of Mao rendered in Warhol’s distinctive style are among 199 silkscreen works produced by the Pop artist in five scales between 1972 and 1973. A reflection of the artist’s fascination with fame and celebrity culture, the works also addressed mechanisms of propaganda, reproducing one of the most widely dispensed images of the chairman throughout the People’s Republic of China. The creation of the portraits coincided with former President Richard Nixon’s historic 1972 summit with Mao, which marked the end of a 25-year period of diplomatic isolation between the United States and China.

In 2015, a 1972 “Mao” silkscreen painting previously owned by billionaire Steven Cohen sold for $47.5 million, including fees. OCC’s print, which measured 36 by 36 inches, had been appraised at $50,000, according to Gutierrez, who added that the work was marked as 187 in an edition of 250 and was signed by the artist with a ballpoint pen.

OCC authorities are asking the public to contact the school’s campus safety office or CMPD with any details about the print’s whereabouts. Hyperallergic has reached out to CMPD for additional comment.

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