Andy Warhol

[no title]


Not on display

Andy Warhol 1928–1987
Screenprint on paper
Image: 900 × 1216 mm
frame: 910 × 1228 × 30 mm
Purchased 1982

Display caption

Warhol began making silkscreens of an empty electric chair in 1963, a time when the ethics of capital punishment were being fervently debated in America. Designed to make killing as efficient and impersonal as possible, the electric chair unites Warhol’s fascination with death and with mechanised production. He presents these bleak images in a deadpan manner, without social commentary or moral consolation. The emotional distance is heightened by his audacious use of colour, which is at odds with his morbid subject matter.

Gallery label, February 2016

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Catalogue entry

P07728 [from] Electric Chair 1971 [P07725-P07734; complete]

Ten screenprints each approx. 35 3/8 × 47 3/4 (900 × 1216) on Velin Arches paper, printed by Silkprint Kettner, Zurich, published by Bruno Bischofberger, Zurich in an edition of 250
Each inscribed ‘Andy Warhol 71’ on the back and numbered on the back with a stamp
Purchased at Sotheby's, Los Angeles (Grant-in-Aid) 1982
Repr: Hermann Wünsche, Andy Warhol, Das Graphische Werk 1962–1980, Bonn 1981, pls.59–68 (col.)

The image used for this portfolio of prints was derived from the ‘Electric Chair’ paintings Warhol made in 1967. It is also closely related to the ‘Lavender Disaster’ painting of 1964 (repr. Warhol, exhibition catalogue Tate Gallery, February–March 1971, p.47). According to the publisher, in a conversation with the compiler on 13 September 1985, he asked Warhol to do a publication and discussed with him which subject might be suitable. The publisher wanted something which would relate to Warhol's principal earlier work but cannot remember whether it was he or Warhol who proposed the eventual subject. It was intended to make a print of an image which Warhol had already made famous.

The actual image for the prints was taken from the earlier paintings the source for which was a newspaper photograph. According to Calvin Tomkins the particular eletric chair was at Sing-Sing prison (‘Raggedy Andy’ in Andy Warhol, exhibition catalogue, Van Abbemuseum, Eindhoven, October–November 1970, p.13). The ‘Electric Chair’ paintings were part of a series on ‘Death and Disaster’. According to Warhol it was Henry Geldzahler who gave him the idea to start the series. ‘We were having lunch one day in the summer [of 1962]... and he laid the Daily News out on the table. The headline was “129 DIE IN JET”. And that's what started me on the death series - the car crashes, the Disasters, the Electric Chairs ...’ (quoted in Carter Ratcliffe, Andy Warhol, New York, 1983, p.37). According to Rainer Crone (Andy Warhol, London, 1970, p.29) the ‘Electric Chair’ paintings are political statements, symbols of the misuse of government sovereignty, an open confession of a deficiency in cultural development. He claims that the paintings were made to insist on the message that the law of capital punishment be changed. There is little evidence from Warhol to substantiate such a specific claim.

Each print in the portfolio depicts the same basic image of an empty chair but they vary in colour. According to the publisher there is no particular order to the prints. He stated that Warhol made proofs with many different colours and together with the publisher chose those he liked best. The publisher has one hundred or more different proofs. The edition comprises ten prints the majority of which are printed in two colours. The image of the chair in eight of them is less distinct as though fading away or charged with electricity.

Warhol made one print with very gestural marks. According to the publisher the artist wanted to make the whole edition in this manner but the publisher dissuaded him because he felt it ran contrary to the spirit of the paintings from which they were derived. The artist persuaded the publisher to retain one image in this manner for the editioned set. Apart from the particular character of this print the portfolio differs from the screenprinted paintings in that the ground colour of the paintings was applied by hand with a roller, whereas each colour in the printed version required a separate screen.

Published in:
The Tate Gallery 1982-84: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions, London 1986

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