In the late 1960’s, members of various protest movements in the West held Mao with a particular fascination, as they considered him as a symbol of revolutionary progress. The now iconic portrait of Mao, reproduced millions of times, in the “Little Red Book”, on posters, stamps, and currency, were all designed to create a personality cult around ‘The Great Leader’. In hindsight, it is ironic to think that his image was championed in student protests and demonstrations against the Vietnam War as - apparently unknown to the rest of the world – atrocities on a colossal scale were committed in the name of the Cultural Revolution in Mao’s China.
By deliberately blurring the familiar portrait of Chairman Mao, Richter calls into the question the ease with which the famous icon was adopted in the West as a symbol of political hope. Not only does he cast doubt on the particular ideology that Mao stood for but also on the validity of any propaganda image, at a time when pictures of revolutionaries such as Mao and Che Guevara were household images. It is however interesting to note that the only other ‘iconic’ figure Richter chose to portray in the 1960’s in his signature blurred style was Queen Elizabeth II.
The present two photographs of Mao mounted on one piece of cardboard are records of Richter’s working process. It seems he had pre-selected at least two images of Mao Tse-Tung for the collotype-edition of Mao (Butin 13), one smiling, the other with a toothy grin, and in the end decided for the now so familiar smiling one, a newspaper photograph of the ‘Great Leader’ of 1967.