Cadaver consists of six identical black and white photographs of a medical examination in progress, which have been sewn together with thread into a two by three grid. In the photograph a bearded man wearing a white lab coat and white gloves raises a limb of a corpse that appears to be stripped of skin and possibly decomposing; strips of what looks like flesh dangle around his fingers. Two female figures, possibly students, stand to the right of the man, behind the corpse, and observe the examination, although one of them appears to be averting her gaze. The multiple reproduction of the photograph draws attention to its composition and to its patterning of dark and light areas, as well as to the strong diagonal slice made by the raised limb.
Between 1982 and 1987 Andy Warhol produced several hundred works each comprising several identical photographs stitched together with thread. At the edges of the work excess thread is left hanging, which along with the buckling and scuffing of the photographs caused by feeding them through a sewing machine gives them a sculptural quality. The subject matter of the photographs used for the stitched works varies considerably, from portraits to signs to still lifes. There are a number of stitched photographs by Warhol in the ARTIST ROOMS collection. Cadaver might be compared to Dissection Class 1986 (Tate AR00288) in that both works feature images of death and can be seen to produce an abstract pattern through repetition.
According to art historian William Ganis, Warhol ‘appropriated the stitched photograph concept from his friend, studio assistant, and traveling companion, Christopher Makos’ (Ganis 2004, p.23). Makos had been sewing together his own photographs since 1976. In 1982 Warhol purchased a Bernina sewing machine. Makos recruited his friend Michele Loud to work on Warhol’s stitched pieces as an assistant: she was responsible for sewing together most of the photographs. The exhibition Andy Warhol Photographs at New York’s Robert Miller Gallery in January 1987 showcased a selection of pieces from the series for the first time. The show was praised by critics, and ninety-eight of the stitched works were sold. Enthused by this success, Warhol continued to make sewn photographs until his death a month later.
In that it presents multiple reproductions of an identical image of death, Cadaver may be compared to Warhol’s 1960s Death and Disaster series of screenprints. The Death and Disaster series included images of car crashes, atomic bomb explosions, electric chairs and suicides. In the 1980s, while working on the stitched photographs, Warhol produced a number of screenprints which seemed to make reference to the earlier Death and Disaster series, including numerous works depicting guns. Around the same time he also created screenprints of anatomical illustrations. What distinguishes these screenprinted works from Cadaver, however, is that the screenprints were made using found and appropriated imagery whereas the photograph reproduced in Cadaver was taken by Warhol himself.
John Richardson and John F. Stuckley, Andy Warhol: Heaven and Hell Are Just One Breath Away – Late Paintings and Related Works, 1984–86, New York 1992.
William V. Ganis, Andy Warhol’s Serial Photography, Cambridge 2004.
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