My name is Gary Carrion-Murayari. I’m the Kraus Family curator at the New Museum and one of the co-curators of the exhibition, Thomas Bayrle: Playtime.
Mao is one of TB’s most iconic examples of what he called his painted machines, which were the first works he was creating in the 1960s. These were actually kinetic paintings in which hundreds of individual figures move and transform one image into a completely different image, just by overlapping their patterns.
Much of Thomas’ work from the 1960s was interested in finding a kind of visual language that would combine communism and capitalism into a single work of art. These painted machines often times would depict popular political figures in Germany during that period. Also kinds of American consumer products that were flooding the German market at the time, as well as images in this case of Mao, one of the key figures from communism that was fascinating to the German left during that period.
Thomas, in making the painted machines, was inspired by images he had seen of the kind of mass demonstrations and pageants in Maoist china where hundreds and thousands of individuals would create choreographed patterns in support of the government. In Mao he took an image of the iconic leader and transformed it into the iconic red Chinese painted star. During this period t was interested in joining the Maoist party in Germany and he has a story where he invited a couple of members from the Maoist over to his apartment to show him his work. And they were horrified by the fact that he was depicting the individuals that made up this work with little suits and ties, essentially turning them into capitalist offices workers. So he never joined the Maoist party in Germany but his depictions of Mao are some of the most iconic works form German pop art during that time. Actually predating the works of Mao made by Andy Warhol later in the decade.