An editorial in the state-backed Global Times newspaper suggested that while Warhol may not have had ill intent, the "provocative" blotches of color splattered on Mao's face suggested that he was wearing make-up -- a disrespectful portrayal of the iconic leader.
While Shiner acknowledged the Mao portraits "could be read as a sarcastic or ironic portrayal", he said Warhol "definitely wasn't being critical. He always liked to blur the lines on gender, and making colorful men somewhat beautiful was something that he liked to do as an inside joke," he added.
Once the Chinese public gains a deeper understanding of Warhol's work, he expects that the Mao works "won't be as big a deal."
Influence on Chinese contemporary art
Warhol's influence on Chinese contemporary art can actually be traced back to 1981, when many contemporary artists, labeled as dissidents, fled the country, Shiner said. While most of them went to Paris and Berlin, two artists "very specifically went to New York because they wanted quite literally to be part of Andy's universe" -- Ai Weiwei and Xu Bing.
Both artists have gone on to become some of the most recognized and celebrated names in Chinese contemporary art, and some would go as far as calling Ai Weiwei "China's Andy Warhol."
"Ai Weiwei loves the idea of multiples," Makos pointed out, noting Ai's most famous installations, including the 9,000 backpacks representing the schoolchildren killed in the 2008 Sichuan earthquake, and the millions of porcelain sunflower seeds he poured into the Turbine Hall of London's Tate Modern museum.
Shiner readily concurred: "He's really gone on to model his entire art-making process and career on proven Warhol tactics, looking at repetition, multiplication, and critique of consumer culture. When you look at his Coca-Cola works, that's directly related to Warhol and it's really amazing how many things he picked up from Andy."
As for Xu Bing, viewers may not immediately see Warhol in his work, Shiner said, but he described the artist as a "huge fan of Warhol" who "loves the idea of repetition -- the formal arrangement of Chinese character after Chinese character, an endless array of similar looking imagery."
Unfortunately, neither artist became acquainted in person with their muse, despite moving to New York for him. Ai once spotted Warhol at a party, but did not approach him, Shiner revealed. "As a young man, he was too shy to actually go and say hello," he said, recalling that Ai told him his English wasn't good enough at the time.
Ai and Xu aside, the Warhol aesthetic and vocabulary has deeply influenced Chinese contemporary artists over the past 10-15 years, with its characteristic combinations of social realist imagery with pop culture and iconic brands.
The Shanghai exhibition will run to July 28 and make its way to Beijing later this year. Meanwhile, Makos will also hold an exhibition of his photographs of Warhol next month in Shanghai, including images from their 1982 trip in China.
"His work lives on. Maybe (the Chinese) don't know him, but they know his work," Makos said, predicting that Warhol "will get bigger and bigger in China."
"Andy was the ultimate pop artist. To this day you can still find Campbell soup on the shelf in the grocery store and you can see multiples of them," Makos said. "As long as that imagery is live and well, Warhol will have this built-in publicity.