The signed artwork is named "UNTITLED," dates back to 2002, and is a linen-mounted acrylic painting of what seems to be an official poster of Zedong enhanced with typical KAWS companion features. The artwork has since been taken down from Sothebys auction site but you can still see the image over at Mutual Art. It was originally scheduled for auction on October 7 and was expected to reach between 620,000 and 950,000 Hong Kong Dollars ($79,000 - $121,000 approximately).
The controversy began when publication 2CCM published an article about the auction, which, (perhaps coincidentally) was scheduled to launch one week after the 70th anniversary of People's Republic of China, which was lead by Zedong and first officially celebrated in Beijing on October 1, 1949. Since news of the auction spread, Instagram has been flooded with negative comments aimed at KAWS, accusing the artist of insulting China and its people.
KAWS responded in an Instagram story, saying: "I would never create an artwork that tries to offend any individual person, group or country. I have always worked with popular imagery, just as I did in 2001 when this artwork was created. The [Mao' artwork was not politically motivated then and should not be used politically now. My family, friends and fans are from all parts of the world and understand how much I enjoy creating global work that respects all people."
Some people have even taken to platforms like Instagram and Weibo to share videos of them burning KAWS products in protest against the auction.
In response, Uniqlo China has reportedly removed all KAWS products from its online store, as has China's biggest resale platform, Poizon.
Highsnobiety has reached out to Sothebys Hong Kong and New York for comment. Updates to follow.
On this week’s episode of The Dropcast, we are joined by the Patta dons Edson Sabajo and Guillaume Schmidt, who are marking the Dutch brand’s 15th anniversary with historical milestones.