Andy Warhol’s Electric Chair, 1964: a dark mirror to pop art
Part of the artist’s Death and Disaster series, Warhol counterpointed the vibrancy of his famous works with the bleak underbelly of popular culture
Modern icons were the lifeblood of Warhol’s work – from Marilyn Monroe to soup cans. With a jolt of bleak humour, he seems to suggest his electric chair as a dark mirror to these images.
The hot seat
It began as this 1964 screenprint, with the chair looking lost in a deathly vacuum of silver and shadows. In later prints Warhol went for bright colours and a closeup of the main attraction.
The original work was part of his Death and Disaster series, where grisly shots of riots, suicides and car crashes were screenprinted, over and over, mirroring the numbing effect of the media.
Like Warhol’s movie stars, the electric chair image is thrilling but, thanks to its repetition and thus normalisation, oddly robbed of impact. Where was the woman behind Marilyn’s trademark bouffant and pout? Death, served as a treacly kick in the tabloids, is similarly unfathomable – but leads to a shrug rather than any soul-searching.