Local artist finds Chinese love Warhol

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As an artist in residence for two months in mainland China, Point Breeze printmaker Leslie Golomb discovered just how eager Asian artists are to learn more about Andy Warhol.

The Chinese revere printmaking because it is considered the country's folk art, Ms. Golomb said. At major universities and even at some middle schools, students can learn their country's ancient history and techniques through prints. And Warhol, with his large silkscreen prints, is a star.

"They clearly see him as an important artist in China," Ms. Golomb said. "Before Andy Warhol and Mauricio Lasansky, the only prints that were taken seriously were 2 inches by 4 inches."

At the Guanlan Printmaking Base in Shenzhen, Ms. Golomb was the only American invited by the Chinese government to participate in a cultural initiative that ran from December 2011 through January 2012. Shenzhen, a 20-minute drive from Hong Kong, was once a fishing village but its booming electronics factories have swelled the population to more than 15 million.

When Ms. Golomb told the director of the printmaking center and other artists that a major Warhol retrospective would tour China in 2013, "their eyes just popped out of their heads. They have not had an opportunity to see a Warhol."

The show, which was organized in Pittsburgh, opened in Hong Kong in December. Since residents of mainland China might not be able to go to Hong Kong, the artists she met will probably see the show in Shanghai, Ms. Golomb said.

During her visit to China, Ms. Golomb saw artists taking images of celebrities such as the Rolling Stones and "putting a Chinese swing" on them by "having someone holding a Louis Vuitton bag."

"The best printmakers of China all come to this center, which was quite amazing," she said.

Among the gifts she offered were sets of playing cards she bought in the gift shop of The Andy Warhol Museum on the North Side. Each card bore Warhol's colorful image of Chairman Mao.

"They just laughed that there were playing cards with Mao on them. They giggled over that," she recalled.

Mao's face is everywhere in China.

"He's kind of become sort of a funky figure for them, too. He's on their money. They revere him, but they know they are into a different mindset."

Back when Andy Warhol was making silkscreens of Mao, "they certainly weren't seeing Mao in that light," Ms. Golomb said.

"They are just so ready for it now -- the capitalism and consumerism. They so get that and they didn't before. They love it."


Marylynne Pitz: mpitz@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1648.


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