Andy Warhol's painting of Mao ZedongWhile Crimea might be hogging all the headlines, there's another diplomatic stalemate currently troubling Central Europe. Staff at the Chinese embassy in Romania are upset with Bucharest's Contemporary ArtXpert Gallery for including two portraits of Chairman Mao Zedong – one by Andy Warhol, another by Romanian artist Paul Hitter – in an exhibition called "Diktator".
The exhibition opened last Friday, the 6th of March – the date the communist party first came to power in Romania in 1945.Curator Adina Niculae had sent out opening night invitations to every embassy in Bucharest, but only received a response from the city's Chinese representatives. Unfortunately, it wasn't a particularly positive one. "We were shocked to find out that, among the exhibits, is a portrait of the former president of China," they wrote. "We respectfully ask you not to include that painting in your exhibition, in order to spare the respectful feelings of the Chinese people towards Chairman Mao."In the embassy's opinion, "the president was and is a personality that contributed greatly to the proclamation of The Republic of China and is respected even nowadays – he is not considered a dictator at all".
Paul Hitter's Mao portrait is part of a triptych called "Trio Fantastik", which includes paintings of Stalin and Lenin.Paul Hitter, unsurprisingly, doesn't agree, telling me that he had plenty of Chinese friends when he lived in Germany who'd fled their home country in fear of the regime. "I was only told life there was good once, and that was by the son of a member of The Communist Party of China, who was studying in Europe," he said. "I respect the Chinese people and the painting is not derogatory. I think Mao was evil, but I also admire him because he got where he got in life. I am disappointed that the embassy has a problem with the art."￼ Niculae refused to take the paintings down and asked the embassy for a better explanation: "I told them that the rest of the world doesn’t see him as a hero, and asked them to tell me about what his great achievements were," she said."They didn’t get back to me, so I called Alexandru Mironov – lecturer at the Faculty of History in Bucharest – who first laughed, then said: 'Of course he was a dictator. He had absolute power, he was the only decision maker, he wasn’t elected by democratic vote and he promoted the cult of personality. He developed China, but at the price of millions of lives – those he considered class enemies."I gave the embassy a ring myself, but so far I've also had no reply.It's anyone's guess as to exactly how this diplomatic spat is going to play out, but I suppose it's likely to go one of two ways: the gallery removes the work and the Chinese embassy thank them, or they don't remove it and the Chinese stay mad and don't go to any of their exhibitions ever again.