Andy Warhol ‘Mao’ Print Vanishes From a California College’s Vault

The 1972 artwork, which the school had never publicly displayed, is worth an estimated $50,000

Mao Silkscreen by Andy Warhol
A version of Andy Warhol's Mao that's similar to the print owned by Orange Coast College Peter Macdiarmid / Getty Images

An Andy Warhol screenprint of the Chinese communist leader Mao Zedong has mysteriously disappeared from a community college in California.

The 1972 piece, titled Mao, is worth an estimated $50,000 and was stored in a secure vault at Orange Coast College, reports the Southern California News Group’s Nathaniel Percy. Accessing the vault requires both entering a code and producing a key card.

On March 13, staffers noticed the print was missing and began an internal investigation. A week later, officials notified the Costa Mesa Police Department in Orange County. Doug Bennett, the school’s executive director for college advancement, tells Mo Yu of Voice of America (VOA) that finding the artwork is a “high priority,” and two detectives are currently working on the case.

Warhol began creating portraits of Mao in 1972, when Richard Nixon famously became the first American president to visit mainland China, reestablishing diplomatic relations after 25 years of isolation.

“I have been reading so much about China,” the artist wrote in 1971. “They’re so nutty. They don’t believe in creativity. The only picture they ever have is of Mao Zedong. It’s great. It looks like a silkscreen.”

Warhol, who had long been interested in exploring celebrity culture, created 199 silkscreen paintings of Mao between 1972 and 1973. The Pop Art icon used the same colorful style he had previously employed to portray famous figures like Marilyn Monroe.

Juan Gutierrez, a spokesperson for Orange Coast College, tells Hyperallergic’s Maya Pontone that the signed print had arrived as part of an anonymous donation in 2020. Officials were told the piece was the 187th work in a collection of 250. The school never put the piece on display.

“I don’t know how many people knew that there was a Mao print in the vault,” Gutierrez adds. “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.”

While the artwork may have been stolen, officials say there’s a chance it was moved accidentally. They’re hoping that whoever has the piece will simply return it, no questions asked.

“Someone perhaps took it and put it in their office or put it in their home and thought it was okay to do,” says Bennett to VOA. “Or maybe it was misplaced. But I don’t think it was, like, a ring of art thieves.”

Officials have called on the public for help, saying that anyone with information about the missing print should contact the Costa Mesa Police Department or the college’s campus safety department.

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

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