Death and Disaster (Andy Warhol)  

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The Death and Disaster series is a loose group of works by Andy Warhol that he produced between 1962 and 1965. The series includes 129 Die in Jet!, Red Car Crash, Green Car Crash, Purple Jumping Man, Orange Disaster, Big Electric Chair, Suicide (Fallen Body) and Race Riot. The works transform personal tragedies into public spectacles, and signal the use of images of disaster in the then evolving mass media.

Warhol initially called this series Death in America. These paintings, of subjects such as car crashes, suicides, food poisoning, the electric chair, gangster funerals, and the atom bomb, were to become known as the Death and Disaster paintings. In an interview at the time, he explained what had made him start:

I guess it was the big plane crash picture, the front page of a newspaper: 129 DIE. I was also painting the Marilyns. I realized that everything I was doing must have been Death. It was Christmas or Labor Day—a holiday—and every time you turned on the radio they said something like, “4 million are going to die.” That started it. But when you see a gruesome picture over and over again, it doesn’t really have any effect. --Andy Warhol, ARTnews, 1963

Warhol noted in Popism that it was Henry Geldzahler, then curator of Twentieth Century Art at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York:

"who gave me the idea to start the Death and Disaster series. We were both 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…"

Warhol's fascination with death had started with the Marilyn Diptych.

Electric chair screenprints

Warhol began making electric chair screenprints 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. The photograph on which he based his screenprints was of the chair in Sing Sing Penitentiary. It was released by the World Wide Photo press service in 1953 in conjunction with the execution of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg.

See also

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