Electric Chair by Andy Warhol
Warhol began using the image of the electric chair in 1963, the same year as the two final executions in New York State. Over the next decade, he repeatedly returned to the subject, reflecting the political controversy surrounding the death penalty in America in the 1960s. The chair, and its brutal reduction of life to nothingness, is given a typically deadpan presentation by Warhol. The image of an unoccupied electric chair in an empty execution chamber becomes a poignant metaphor for death.
In 1962, Andy Warhol started a series of silkscreened paintings of death and disasters that included photographs of suicides, plane and car crashes, and tragedy-stricken celebrities such as Marilyn Monroe and Jacqueline Kennedy. All the images were taken from the print media. He depicted an electric chair in several groups of silk-screens throughout the 1960s, the first in 1963–the same year that New York’s Sing Sing State Penetentiary performed its last two executions by electric chair (capital punishment was banned in the United States from 1963-1997). For his 1968 retrospective at the Moderna Museet in Stockholm, Warhol produced yet another series, of which these works are a part. In these prints, however, he made some variations: he cropped the image to bring the electric chair to the foreground, and screened it in a variety of colors other than black, occasionally printing off-register double images. By the artist’s account, the replication of the image was intended to “empty” it of meaning.
More than twenty years after his death, Andy Warhol remains one of the most influential figures in contemporary art and culture. Warhol’s life and work inspires creative thinkers worldwide thanks to his enduring imagery, his artfully cultivated celebrity, and the ongoing research of dedicated scholars. His impact as an artist is far deeper and greater than his one prescient observation that “everyone will be world famous for fifteen minutes.” His omnivorous curiosity resulted in an enormous body of work that spanned every available medium and most importantly contributed to the collapse of boundaries between high and low culture.
A skilled social networker, Warhol parlayed his fame, one connection at a time, to the status of a globally recognized brand. Decades before widespread reliance on portable media devices, he documented his daily activities and interactions on his traveling audio tape recorder and beloved Minox 35EL camera. Predating the hyper-personal outlets now provided online, Warhol captured life’s every minute detail in all its messy, ordinary glamour and broadcast it through his work, to a wide and receptive audience.