Andy Warhol’s car crash artwork sells for $85.4 million

Written by Jacqui Palumbo, CNN

This article was updated with the final sale price and other details after the auction concluded.

Andy Warhol may be best known for his pop art iconography of Marilyn Monroe, Chairman Mao and Campbell’s Soup cans, but it was one of his screen prints of a mangled car wreck that joined the list of most valuable postwar works on Wednesday. never sold at auction.

“White Disaster (White Car Crash 19 Times),” a colossal image from the artist’s “Death and Disaster” series, sold for $85.4 million at Sotheby’s in New York, a sum the auction house described as “monumental”.

By the time Warhol created the work in 1963, he had been transfixed by gruesome and morbid images (atomic bomb clouds, electric chairs) and the way print publications reproduced them, believing that readers had become immune to them. its impact. Of all his output, the series most explicitly dealt with his fixation on human mortality.

Andy Warhol photographed in his New York studio, The Factory, in 1983.

Andy Warhol photographed in his New York studio, The Factory, in 1983. Credit: Historic Brownie Harris/Corbis/Getty Images

In White Disaster, Warhol duplicated a single image of a car crash 19 times in black and white. At 12 feet tall and 6 feet wide, it is the largest of his car accident works.

“What sets (the artwork) apart is not just its immense scale, which really baffles anyone who stands in front of it… but also its palette,” said David Galperin, head of contemporary art at Sotheby’s in New York. , before the sale. . “It really seems to shine, the way the black silk screen registers against the crisp white background,” he added, explaining that Warhol repeated his image in the series in different hues, including lavender and orange.

The large-scale screen print is 12 feet tall and 6 feet wide.

The large-scale screen print is 12 feet tall and 6 feet wide. Credit: Courtesy of Sotheby’s

Galperin likened the scale and shape of the piece to religious altarpieces, referencing Warhol’s Catholic upbringing and the religious currents underlying his work, in particular how religious icon paintings informed his celebrity portraits. Warhol worked on the “Death and Disaster” series at the same time as he was screen printing his famous images of Monroe after his death in 1962.

“These ideas of celebrity, tragedy, fame, death, these are the themes that occupied Warhol and I think the series he was working on simultaneously, the Marilyn paintings and the ‘Death and Disaster’ paintings, are closely related.” Galperin said.

“Silver Car Crash (Double Disaster)” set a record when it grossed over $100 million in 2013. Credit: Emmanuel Dunand/AFP/Getty Images

In 2013, a smaller work in the “Silver Car Crash (Double Disaster)” series sold at Sotheby’s for a record $105.4 million. It reigned as Warhol’s most expensive artwork until last year, when one of his Monroe silkscreens broke the record for any American artist, fetching $195 million.

Before the sale, “White Disaster” had been in a private collection for 25 years and was previously owned by both Heiner Friedrich, founder of the Dia Art Foundation, and art dealer Thomas Ammann, according to Sotheby’s. He has appeared in major exhibitions on Warhol and pop art in general at the Tate Museum in London, the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Pompidou Center in Paris and, most recently, the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis.

The work was for sale in one of two major auctions held at Sotheby’s New York on Wednesday that raised a total of $314.9 million. Elsewhere, an untitled painting by Willem de Kooning sold for $34.8 million, the second-highest sum ever paid for a work by the Dutch-American artist, the auction house said. Works by Francis Bacon and Jean-Michel Basquiat were among some of the other eight-figure sales.

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