Magazine November 3, 2008, Issue

Imagining the Chairman

SEPTEMBER 9, 1976: Mao Tse-tung, the Communist leader and founder of the People’s Republic of China, dies in Beijing at 82. Mao and the Communists took control of the massive nation in 1949 after a long civil war and consolidated their control through the Great Leap Forward, a failed economic initiative in 1958, and the tumultuous Cultural Revolution of the 1960s. Mao remains a revered figure.

The sculpture (by Sui Jianguo) squats, a weird piece of a whole that was never made, on a median bisecting one of the more affluent slices of Manhattan’s Park Avenue. It’s of a distinctive, very distinctive, jacket, nothing more, but it’s oddly bulky, as if the colossus who once wore it were, impossibly, somewhere within. And because the shape and the cut of that jacket are so distinctive, the onlooker is encouraged to fill it with his own image of the only individual (out of hundreds of millions once clothed in such garments) it could possibly represent. He’s a man

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