John Blundell on why the sale of prints of Warhol's Chairman Mao in Manchester has stirred up strong emotions

THE Castle Fine Art Gallery on King Street will hold an event this week with artist Paul Stephenson, who has been described as a ‘posthumous Warhol’. 

Stephenson owns some of Andy Warhol’s original acetates and is the only possessor of a working Alexander Heinrich (Warhol’s favourite printer). He has dedicated the last decade of his life to producing his 'After Warhol' series which recreates some of the pop artist's most famous works, faithfully using the same methodologies and materials.

The fact that Mao's image is now being sold for £8,000 in the city his socialist beliefs were born in will fill some with regret.

At Castle Fine Art Gallery (until 23rd February) you can buy one of Stephenson's/Warhol's prints of Chairman Mao for a cool £8,000.

Anybody but an expert would identify it as an original Warhol. And given that Warhol once said, 'I think somebody should be able to do all my paintings for me,' does it matter that it isn't? 

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Castle Fine Art are currently displaying Stephen’s Warhol Prints on King Street
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Paul Stephenson is appearing at Castle Fine Art on King Street at 6pm on Friday 15 February

But that's not the question I want to ask here. Seeing Mao’s image in Manchester stirred some uncomfortable emotions in me - and doubtless in others too.

Millions of people died at the hands of his regime, all in the name of elevating the proletariat from their impoverished state. Hanging his image on the wall of an art gallery is a challenging act in itself.

But to display - and sell it - in Manchester in particular is challenging in other ways, too. 

Mao overthrew the government in China in 1949 to enforce decades of communist rule. He overhauled Chinese society to embed a political school of thought borne out of Marx and Engel’s dismay at the condition of the working class - which was formulated right here in Manchester. (Following years spent living in Manchester, Friedrich Engels wrote The condition of the working class in England in 1844)

The fact that Mao's image is now being sold for £8,000 in the city his socialist beliefs were born in will fill some with regret.

Mao sought to rid China of all vestiges of capitalism through his Great Proletariat Cultural Revolution and he was one of the greatest proponents of common ownership. There is a poignancy to the fact that capitalism now exploits Mao’s image, and is doing so in Manchester. 

Despite this, I believe that having artwork such as this for sale in our city is a welcome symptom of the significant growth Manchester has seen in recent decades.

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The work is one of Warhol's most famous

The Chinese are one of the most significant investors in Manchester. BCEG (Beijing Construction Engineering Group) is heavily involved in the rapid expansion of Airport City, a major development providing thousands of jobs near Manchester Airport. It also has a stake in Middlewood Locks - a 25-acre development of over 2000 new homes on the edge of the city centre. Many of the residential developments in the city centre are underpinned by Chinese money.

Much of the demand for these developments is driven by Manchester’s thriving cultural scene - including its art. The sale of artworks depicting Chairman Mao - in the city where socialism was born and at a time when our city is booming - seems particularly significant to me.

And that is all the more reason to go and see it. Stephenson's Warhol-inspired print of Chairman Mao must be one of the most politically symbolic artworks on display in Manchester today. 

Paul Stephenson is appearing at Castle Fine Art, King Street on Friday 15 February at 6pm.