ANDY WARHOL (1928-1987)
Electric Chair
the complete set of ten screenprints in colours, 1971, on thick wove paper, each signed and dated in ballpoint pen on the reverse, stamp-numbered 224/250 (there were also fifty artist's proofs numbered in Roman numerals), published by Bruno Bischofberger, Zurich, with their copyright stamp on the reverse
Sheet 902 x 1217 mm. (and similar)

Please note this lot is the property of a consumer. See H1 of the Conditions of Sale.
Acquired directly from the artist by the previous owner.
Christie's, London, 16 October 2007, lot 429.
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner.
Feldman & Schellman II.74-83
Bologna, Galleria d'Arte Maggiore G.A.M., Andy Warhol, 24 October - 31 December 2015.
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Lot Essay

The present series of ten screenprints was published in 1971 by Bruno Bischofberger, the renowned Swiss art dealer and gallerist. He had met Warhol for the first time in 1966 and befan an enduring personal and professional relationship, which lasted until the artist's death in 1987.
Warhol's source image for the series is the same he had used for his earlier screenprinted canvases: a press photograph from 1953, taken in the execution chamber of the Sing Sing Correctional Facility in New York. That same year, this very same chair - macabrely nicknamed 'Old Sparky' - had been the instrument of death for the Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, the first civilians in American history to be executed for espionage. They were sentenced to the capital punishment two years earlier, in 1951, for divulging atomic secrets to Russia during the Second World War.
In 1963, Eddie Lee Mays, convicted for murder and robbery, became the last person to be executed by electrocution in the State of New York, before the State's repeal of death penalty, after a phase of intense social debates had set the tone against the capital punishment across the country,
That same year Warhol began using the image of the chair in the empty chamber, that would become the defining image of his seminal body of work: Death and Disasters. In these haunting works, Warhol explored the dark underside of American Pop culture, by depicting the destructive phenomena of the country’s consumerist and capitalist culture. The idea for the series arose during a meting with Henry Geldzahler, curator of contemporary art at the Metropolitan Museum in New York. Over lunch, on June 1962, he had shown Warhol the headline of a newspaper, reporting on the death of 129 people in a plane crash, which in the following years inspired the artist to take the sensationalistic images out of the news context and appropriate them for his own artistic purposes.
Every day, the public was (and is) confronted by the mass media with murders, suicides, accidents and other tragedies. By enlarging, repeating and serialising these press images, Warhol confronts us with our own sensationalism and voyeurism, and seems to suggest that this gratuitous commodification of violent imagery by the media desensitises the viewer to the horror of the actual events.
In an interview published by Artnews in 1963, led by the art critic Gene Swenson, Warhol stated: 'every time you turned on the radio they said something like “4 million are going to die.” (...). But when you see a gruesome picture over and over again, it really doesn’t have any effect' ('What is Pop Art?” Interviews with Eight Painters’, Art News, November 1963, p.61).
Unlike other works from the series (Car Crash, Suicide (Fallen Body) or Race Riots, to name a few), Electric Chair does not explicitly depict violence; the images are defined by stillness, emptiness and silence. Lacking any sign of human presence, they convey a chilling sense of foreboding. Paintings of Electric Chair can be found in major public collections, such as Tate Modern, London (Inv. T07145), and Christie's recently sold 'Little Electric Chair', 1964-65, (New York, 15 May 2019, Masterpieces from The Collection of S.I. Newhouse, lot 16B, for $ 8,220,000).
Warhol repeatedly returned to the subject for over a decade, experimenting further with composition and colour: in the present set of ten screenprints, the subject is presented in a series of negative and positive images printed in a variety of colour combinations. The focus is more tightly cropped on the chair itself than in the earlier paintings. It ccupies a larger proportion of the pictorial space, in an off-centre position. The artist's unique way of juxtaposing vivid colours turns the distressing image into something almost pleasant and decorative, yet disorientating to the eye of the viewer.
The Electric Chair-series unites Warhol’s interest in mechanised mass-production and death and disaster. A still life of a killing machine, a sort of American Post-War memento mori, these works seemingly aestheticise and trivialise this symbol of punishment and death. At the same time, the chair is turned into a hypnotic object of contemplation, forcing the viewer to reflect on the ethics of state violence and the death penalty.

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