Andy Warhol - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale London Thursday, June 30, 2022 | Phillips

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  • 'It's enough life, it's time for a little death.'
    —Henry Geldzahler

    Combining seriality, repetition, and the mechanical modes of production for which he became so well-known, Electric Chair is a supreme illustration of the central preoccupations of Andy Warhol’s definitive brand of American Pop art. Bringing the bright, bold colours of Pop into an immediate and jarring tension with its grisly subject matter, this set of 10 screenprints cut to the heart of the contradictions and repressed anxieties characterising mid-century American consciousness, and of Warhol’s abiding interests in the image, celebrity, death, and tragedy.

     

    Collapsing moments of horror into the mechanics of the spectacle and mass-production, Electric Chair belong to Warhol’s renowned Death and Disaster series – a radical extension of his ambition for his Pop images to stand as ‘a statement of the symbols of the harsh, impersonal products and brash materialistic objects on which America is built today.’i

     

    Andy Warhol, The Electric Chair, 1966, Musée National d’Art Moderne, Centre Pompidou.Image: Bridgeman Images, Artwork: © 2022 The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc. / Licensed by DACS, London


    Andy Warhol, The Electric Chair, 1966, Musée National d’Art Moderne, Centre Pompidou. Image: Bridgeman Images, Artwork: © 2022 The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc. / Licensed by DACS, London

     

    Death and Disaster

     

    Warhol first embarked on the Death and Disaster series in the summer of 1962 with the shocking 129 Die in Jet, a monumental blow up of the front page press photograph that had announced the tragedy in the New York Mirror on the 4th June. As in the defining Warhol portraits of Marilyn Monroe that he started working on in the same summer following her tragic suicide, the selection and reproduction of these images is highly revealing in terms of Warhol’s interests and preoccupations, and of the intersections in his mind between mass-production, celebrity, and tragedy.

     

    Taking on challenging subjects related to suicide, car crashes, and the atomic bomb, Warhol found ample source material in appropriated images from newspapers and police photo archives, images whose inherent reproducibility was extended in his mechanical silkscreen process. Retaining certain qualities of these grainy photographs and their predisposition for mass-production, Warhol’s screenprinting process also introduced an element of chance, as the artist later explained:

    'You pick a photograph, blow it up, transfer it in glue onto silk, and then roll ink across so that the ink goes through the silk but not through the glue. That way you get the same image, slightly different each time. It was all so simple – quick and chancy. I was thrilled with it.'
    —Andy Warhol
    As a comment on the banality of evil, our capacity for great cruelty, and our desensitisation to the image, with this series Warhol began to experiment with repetition, reproducing the images repeatedly across a canvas, giving shape to his claim that  ‘When you see a gruesome picture over and over again, it doesn’t really have an effect.’ii This is especially well-realised in the Death and Disaster series, where one single cataclysmic event – a fatal car crash, state-sanctioned execution, or the dropping of the atomic bomb – is presented as a series of horrifying an inescapable repetitions.

     

    Andy Warhol, Atomic Bomb: Red Explosion, 1965, Saatchi Collection, London. Image: Bridgeman Images, Artwork: © 2022 The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc. / Licensed by DACS, London
    Andy Warhol, Atomic Bomb: Red Explosion, 1965, Saatchi Collection, London. Image: Bridgeman Images, Artwork: © 2022 The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc. / Licensed by DACS, London

     

    Electric Chairs

     

    Closely connected to his images of everyday consumer items – his repeated Coca-Cola bottles, Brillo Boxes, and Campbell’s Soup tins - Warhol’s Electric Chair push the limits of Pop in their probing of the darker underside of the American psyche and it’s relation to mass-production, consumption, and the spectacle. Just as the endless repetition of Monroe’s promotional headshot speaks powerfully to ideas surrounding the construction and consumption of celebrity and the apparent inevitability of tragedy, the Electric Chair works highlight the overlap between death, violence, and spectacle in the American unconscious. As Philip Brophy has surmised: ‘if Warhol is about America, then the electric chair is the seat of American Culture. Like a transmogrified porch rocking chair, this fusion of Gothic American folk and maverick industrial inventiveness declares its own ingenuity as applied to the act of killing’.iii

     

    Andy Warhol, Marilyn (light green, pink, yellow), 1967, Kupferstichkabinett - Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Berlin. Image: Scala, Florence/bpk, Bildagentur fuer Kunst, Kultur und Geschichte, Berlin, Artwork: © 2022 The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc. / Licensed by DACS, London
    Andy Warhol, Marilyn (light green, pink, yellow), 1967, Kupferstichkabinett - Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Berlin. Image: Scala, Florence/bpk, Bildagentur fuer Kunst, Kultur und Geschichte, Berlin, Artwork: © 2022 The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc. / Licensed by DACS, London


    Warhol produced his first Electric Chair in 1964 , shortly after the last executions by electrocution were conducted in New York state. Based on a haunting photograph 1953 of the death chamber in the infamous Sing Sing Prison in Ossining, New York where Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were executed after being convicted as spies for the Soviet Union in the politically charged atmosphere of the Cold War. Widely covered in the press, the case was a scandal that cut to the heart of American paranoia and anxiety during the period, leading French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre to describe the trial as ‘a legal lynching which smears with blood a whole nation’, continuing ‘your country is sick with fear […] you are afraid of the shadow of your own bomb.’iv

     

    Source for Electric Chairs. Artwork: © 2022 The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc. / Licensed by DACS, London
    Source for Electric Chairs. Artwork: © 2022 The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc. / Licensed by DACS, London

     

    An instrument of impersonal, industrialised execution, the action of the electric chair is open to endlessly repetitious, unemotional use, the mechanisation of death made even more harrowing due to the absence of any human element in the image. Drawing obvious connections to the screenprinting process itself, Electric Chair makes manifest the underside of American consumer culture, operating according to the same mechanics of reproduction that produced the Coca-Cola bottles, Campbell’s Soup tins, and the cult of celebrity that so often defines the American century.

     

    Commanding incredible wall power, the present work belongs to the 1971 Electric Chair portfolio, where the more closely cropped image of the chair is repeated across ten prints in a variety of Pop-infused candy pastel tones. Widely considered to be one of Warhol’s most affecting and powerful images in its quiet exposure of the horror and cruelty beneath the surface of post-war affluence and optimism, its array of ‘bright pastel colours [altering] the chair’s appearance into something barbaric, medieval, and absurd.’v

     

    Collector’s Digest

     

    • The defining artist of post-war American Pop Art, Andy Warhol’s work is immediately recognisable and remains highly desirable.

     

    • First created in 1964 as a silkscreen painting, Andy Warhol’s Electric Chair belongs to the artist’s renowned Death and Disaster series that he had started two years earlier.

     

    • In 1971, Warhol created a series of colourful screenprints which replicated the initial image. The majority of the electric chair depictions are kept in major collections such as the Musée national d'art moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris. This is undoubtedly why the image is so powerful and the reason this portfolio is the best known from the Death and Disasters series.

     

    • The subject of major international exhibitions at Tate Modern, London; the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; and the Musée National d’Art Moderne – Centre Pompidou, Paris, Warhol’s work is also held in the permanent collections of the most important institutions worldwide.

     

    Death and Disaster: Vincent Fremont on Andy Warhol’s Clairvoyant Vision of American Violence filmed ahead of Phillips 20th Century & Contemporary Evening Sale, November 2018, New York.


    i Andy Warhol, quoted in ‘New Talent USA’, Art in America, 50, no. 1, 1962, p. 42. 
    ii Andy Warhol, quoted in ‘What is Pop Art? Interviews with Eight Painters’, Art News, November 1963. 
    iii Philip Brophy, ‘Die Warhol Die’, Andy Warhol, (exh. cat.), South Brisbane, 2007, p. 73.
    iv Jean Paul Sartre, quoted in Walter Scheir, Invitation to an Inquest, New York, 1983, p. 254. 
    v Donna de Salvo, ‘God Is In The Details: The Prints of Andy Warhol’, in Frayda Feldman and Claudia Defendi, Andy Warhol Prints: A Catalogue Raisonné 1962 – 1987, New York, 2003, p. 24 – 25.

    • Condition Report

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    • Description

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    • Provenance

      Galerie Bruno Bischofberger, Zürich
      Acquired from the above by the present owner

    • Literature

      Frayda Feldman and Jörg Schellmann, Andy Warhol Prints: A Catalogue Raisonné 1962-1987, New York, 2003, no. II.74-83, p. 78 (illustrated, p. 79)

    • Artist Biography

      Andy Warhol

      American • 1928 - 1987

      Known as the “King of Pop,” Andy Warhol was the leading face of the Pop Art movement in the United States in the 1960s. Following an early career as a commercial illustrator, Warhol achieved fame with his revolutionary series of silkscreened prints and paintings of familiar objects like Campbell's soup tins, and celebrities like Marilyn Monroe. Obsessed with popular culture, celebrity, and advertising, Warhol created his slick, seemingly mass-produced images of everyday subject matter from his famed Factory studio in New York City. His use of mechanical methods of reproduction, notably the commercial technique of silk screening, wholly revolutionized art-making.

      Working as an artist, but also director and producer, Warhol produced a number of avant-garde films in addition to managing the experimental rock band The Velvet Underground and founding Interview magazine. A central figure in the New York art scene until his untimely death in 1987, Warhol was notably a mentor to such artists as Keith Haring and Jean-Michel Basquiat.

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Property from a Prominent European Collection

24

Electric Chairs

each signed and dated in black ball-point pen, and stamp numbered 'Andy Warhol 71 053/250' on the reverse
the complete set of ten screenprints in colours, on wove paper
each 90.2 x 121.9 cm (35 1/2 x 47 7/8 in.)
Executed in 1971, this work is number 53 from an edition of 250 plus 50 artist's proofs in Roman numerals, published by Bruno Bischofberger, Zürich, with their copyright ink stamp on the reverse.

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Estimate
£200,000 - 300,000 

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Kate Bryan
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Olivia Thornton
Head of 20th Century & Contemporary Art, Europe
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20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

London Auction 30 June 2022