This work consists of six identical black and white photographic prints stitched together with thread into a grid of three rows of two. Trails of thread are left hanging at the ends of the joins of the images. The photograph depicts a close-up section of the dashboard of a taxicab taken from inside the vehicle. This section of dashboard, which is illuminated by the flash of the camera, occupies the lower half of the image, above which is the windscreen through which five white lights can be seen as indistinct spots against the dark night sky along with several others of a less intense brightness. On the dashboard, below the small rectangular fare meter, a hand-written sign reads: ‘Cough: Driver has a nice sugar-free cough drop for you… Sneeze: Kleenex is right behind you…’. To the right of this sign is the driver’s licence, which includes an identification photograph and the driver’s name, Robert A. Dinu, and number, 202761.
Between 1982 and 1987 Andy Warhol made over five hundred unique stitched photograph works each comprising several prints of the same image arranged into a grid. The images used as the basis for the stitched photographs were all taken by Warhol, who took photographs almost every day from 1976 onwards using several 35 mm cameras. When he began making the stitched photograph works, Warhol selected images from among the thousands he had amassed. The stitched photograph works feature a broad array of subjects including pictures of celebrities, objects, and monuments. Cough is one of a number of these works featuring signs, which range from the handwritten, such as I Am Blind 1986 (Tate AR00289), to the more formal or commercial, such as Sunday Brunch 1986 (Tate AR00295).
The apparent focus of this work according to its title is the ‘Cough’ sign which indicates the driver’s concern for health and maintaining a sanitary environment. It is well documented that Warhol suffered from hypochondria and so it is likely that he would have empathised with and appreciated the driver’s attempt to keep his car free from germs. Warhol experienced periods of illness as a child that significantly affected his later health:
I had had three nervous breakdowns when I was a child, spaced a year apart. One when I was eight, one at nine, and one at ten. The attacks – St Vitus’ Dance – always started on the first day of summer vacation. I don’t know what this meant. I would spend all summer listening to the radio and lying in bed.
(Warhol 1977, p.21.)
Throughout his adult life the artist frequently expressed concern about his skin and body, or about the risk of infection. Occasionally these fears manifested themselves in his art. For instance, the 1961 painting Where Is Your Rupture?, which was based on a plastic surgeon’s advertisement, depicts a basic outline of the female body from neck to hips, penetrated by several numbered arrows. Warhol’s hypochondria also seems to underpin the series of Tunafish Disaster paintings made in 1963, each of which was based on a page from Newsweek detailing the story of two housewives from a Detroit suburb who were killed by botulism contracted from a can of contaminated tuna.
Andy Warhol, THE Philosophy of Andy Warhol (From A to B and Back Again), New York 1977.
Brian Dillon, ‘Andy Warhol’s Magic Disease’, in Tormented Hope: Nine Hypochondriac Lives, New York 2010, pp.236–66.
University of Edinburgh
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