Green Car Crash: Andy Warhol’s Death and Disaster Series

Green Car Crash Auctions for $71.7 Million: Read My Update Here

Andy Warhol’s Green Car Crash: $71,700,000

Andy Warhol’s Death and Disaster Series

The London Times reported that next week, Andy Warhol’s 1963 Green Car Crash painting is forecast to break auction records and sell for $35 million (£17.5 million) at Christie’s art auction house in New York.  The winning bid at auction is expected to far exceed the previous record for the artist, which was established at Christie’s New York in November 2006 when Warhol’s iconic Mao, 1972, was purchased for $17.4 million.

Green Car Crash (Green Car Crash Burning I)

Note: Green Car Crash ended up going for more than double the predicted auction price, selling on May 16th at Christie’s in New York City for $71. 7 Million.  Two other Warhol’s sold last night, Lemon Marilyn from his famous series of Marilyn Monroe paintings, this one depicting her with lurid yellow hair and purple face, which reached $28 Million, and a self-portrait that went for $8.2 Million.

The Green Car Crash painting has been appraised by art critics to be the most important piece in Andy Warhol’s seminal Death and Disaster series to ever appear at auction. Just as Warhol’s Mao series is now acknowledged in retrospect to have forecast China’s rise as a world super power, the Death and Disaster series offered a prognosis of today’s cult of the self. Perhaps unrecognized as such at the time, it can be viewed as a movement in the art world that paralleled a revolutionary transformation of psychoanalytic thinking, which was being carried out during the same period of time by Heinz Kohut’s project in Chicago, the emergence of modern self psychology with its more sophisticated considerations of the vicissitudes of narcissism.

From the perspective of contemporary popular culture, the sensibility that is conveyed by Warhol’s Death and Disaster series can be seen as the bedrock for the transient world of YouTube, MySpace, FaceBook and blogging on the internet, dimensions where everybody and anybody can act out their tragedies and be on stage for the world to see. Warhol got the “15 Minutes of Fame” concept down to an art long before we all realized that it had changed our lives irrevocably and forever.

Green Car Crash (or Green Burning Car I) is based upon what is arguably the most extraordinary, strange and disturbing source image of all the paintings in Warhol’s Death and Disaster series. The original photograph was taken by photographer John Whitehead and inserted, apparently arbitrarily, into an article on racial integration that appeared in the June 3rd issue of Newsweek Magazine in 1963. The caption that accompanied the photograph in the magazine described the photograph and the scene that it recorded as follows: “End of the Chase: Pursued by a state trooper investigating a hit-and-run accident, commercial fisherman Richard J. Hubbard, 24, sped down a Seattle street at more than 60 mph, overturned, and hit a utility pole. The impact hurled him from the car, impaling him on a climbing spike. He died 35 minutes later in hospital.”

The scene, as it is depicted in Warhol’s painting, is a tediously dull suburban street that has been instantaneously transformed into an almost surrealistic nightmare, in which an overturned car in flames is shown in the foreground while the catapulted body of the driver can be seen hanging, although still alive, impaled on a post.

The image becomes even more morbid when one observes that there is a figure at the heart of the picture, a man with hands in his pockets, passing by devoid of any concern, seemingly oblivious to the actual that is hell breaking out just on the other side of the sidewalk. Some have described it as being like something from David Lynch’s Twin Peaks or Blue Velvet, where the charming and banal aura of a suburban community is shown to be nothing more than the tenuously compensatory defense of a shallow, seemingly respectable surface beneath which lurks the darker reality of eternal horror.

Similarly, Green Car Crash (Green Burning Car I) reveals this disconnect in the world of appearances. The extraordinary contrast between the mundane normality of everyday suburbia versus the exceptional tragedy and violence that periodically strikes at its heart is exactly what Warhol wanted to convey to us, expressed through what one might characterize as a schizoid detachment in the Death and Disaster series.  In effect, for the careful observer Warhol doubles the underlying sense of horror in everyday life by expressing its banality without any sense of shock or dismay, but rather in a tone of utterly banal solitude.

In addition to showing Warhol’s preoccupation with what some might describe as the morbid underbelly of realizing the fleeting aspect of life, or of acknowledging the real sense of our own mortality, the Death and Disaster series also presents Warhol’s razor-sharp criticism of the moral complacency that middle-class America had stumbled into by the 1960’s. In his own almost incomparable way, Warhol, who was once described as “a rather terrifying oracle,” now has come to be understood by many observers as holding up a deeply percipient mirror, shattering the illusory American dream mercilessly.

THE SHINY SILVER TIN-FOIL FACTORY

Warhol’s original Factory was often thought of as The Silver Factory by people who came to derive a sense of attachment from being involved in or even just hanging around the sense of creative excitement that was evolving there, especially so considering the national social (and political) landscape at that time, where fragmentation was gaining increasing momentum. The sense of excitement around the Factory derived, to a large degree, from an energized feeling that it was possible to openly embrace a range of experiences that had previously been socially forbidden.

In this way, the shiny, shimmering silver represented the decadence of the scene, as well as the proto-glam of the early sixties.  Silver, fractured mirrors, and tin foil were the basic decorating materials loved by the early amphetamine users of the sixties. By combining the industrial structure of his unfurnished Factory art studio with the glitter of silver and what it represented, Warhol was commenting on American values, as he did so often in his art. The years spent at the Factory were known as the Silver Era, not solely because of its design, but also because of the decadent and carefree lifestyle full of money, parties, drugs and fame.

Paradoxically, however, no matter how rose-colored the glasses, the silvery glitter was after all only tawdry tin foil. In this sense, Warhol had built a sham to reflect the broader social sham that he claimed to be rejecting. Unfortunately, many members of his Factory entourage took the sham for real and paid dearly for it in and/or with their lives.

Warhol’s own vision, however, wasn’t dazzled by the feint silvery glitter of the tin foil. Warhol’s game was one of much finer dressage; he had his eyes on catching the ring, and the golden one at that (not the bronze). So aside from his two-dimensional art projects, Andy also used the Factory and the freely-available labor of his entourage as his agency to produce shoes, films, commissions, sculptures and just about anything else that the Warhol name could be put on and sold. His first commissions consisted of a single silkscreen portrait for $25,000, with additional canvases in other colors for $5,000 each.  He later upped his commission for additional printings to $20,000 each. While it’s true that Warhol did use a portion of his income to finance the lifestyle of his Factory friends, shall we say that expense did not nearly put him in any danger of ending up in the poorhouse.

The Factory became a meeting place for artists and musicians such as Lou Reed, Bob Dylan, Brian Jones, Truman Capote, Robert Mapplethorpe, Patti Smith, William Burroughs, Baby Jane Holzer, Anita Pallenberg, Philip Johnson and Mick Jagger. Other, less frequent visitors included Salvador Dalí, Tennessee Williams and Allen Ginsberg.  At the same time, Warhol collaborated with Lou Reed’s influential New York rock band, The Velvet Underground, and in 1965 designed the famous cover for The Velvet Underground and Nico, the band’s debut album. Warhol included The Velvet Underground his Exploding Plastic Inevitable, a spectacle that combined art, rock, Warhol films and dancers of all kinds, as well as live S&M enactments and imagery. The Velvet Underground and EPI used the Factory as a place to rehearse, although it’s been said that the definition of “rehearsal” should only be taken loosely.

Walk on the Wild Side, Lou Reed’s best known song from his solo career, was released on his first commercially successful solo album Transformer. The song is about “the superstars” with whom he had hung out at The Factory, mentioning Holly Woodlawn, Candy Darling, Joe Dallesandro, Jackie Curtis and Joe Campbell. Other Warhol “superstars” from the Factory included Gerard Malanga, Ondine, Ivy Nicholson, Ingrid Superstar, Nico, The Velvet Underground (Lou Reed, Sterling Morrison, Maureen Tucker, and John Cale), Candy Darling, Jeremiah Newton, Jackie Curtis, Frank Holliday, Holly Woodlawn, Viva, Billy Name, Freddie Herko, Mario Montez, Edie Sedgwick, Joe Dallesandro, Naomi Levine, Paul Morrisey, Taylor Mead, Mary Woronov, Jane Forth, Lenny Dahl, Ultra Violet, Brigid Polk, Paul America, Penny Arcade, Bobby Driscoll, John Giorno and many, many other visitors.

As Warhol’s name began to spread more widely among the crowds of New York City’s pretentious night-time clubbers, people pre-occupied with achieving social notoriety and status, he increasingly became a fixture in the downtown club scene, particularly at Studio 54. An increasing number of well known, or soon-to-be well known, personalities glided into his orbit (although he never relinquished his own social stance as a wary hare during all of this). His personal collection of snapshots (some surprisingly quite revealing) came to include: Lauren Hutten, Jim Carey, Joan Collins, Victor Hugo, Sylvester Stallone, Tama Janowitz, John McEnroe, former president Jimmy Carter, Debbie Harry, Liz Minnelli, Rudolph Nureyev, Paloma Picasso, Boy George, Chanel’s Karl Lagerfield, Ozzy Osbourne, Brooke Shields, Steven Spielberg, Bianca Jagger, Keith Haring, Cornelia Guest and Halsten. You get the idea.

Andy Warhol managed to sustain a much longer span of high public recognition than his image of “15 Minutes of Fame.” But no matter how skillful and deft the movements of his dressage, he was never able to catch that gold ring, not even the bronze one. For one, money couldn’t buy it. And even if it could, Andy never had a clue about where it really was.

There’s a message for us in the lesson that Warhol was never able to learn. The important point is that being able to own a thirty-five million dollar painting won’t help you catch the gold ring, but understanding it might help to get you just a little closer to the bronze one.

Andy Warhol at The Silver Factory on East 47th Street

Factory Warhol Superstar Actor and Poet, Gerard Malanga

Gerard Malanga and Bob Dylan

Gerard Malanga: The Screen Test Project

Salvadore Dali: The Screen Test Project

Studio 54: Disco Night Life


Gerard Malanga Discusses Working with Warhol

(Please Click Image to View Video)

Gerard Malanga is a poet and was Andy Warhol’s long-time assistant, as well as one of his film actors, first at the Firehouse and later the Factory.  On the video above, Malanga talks about what it was like to work with Warhol. In particular, Malanga worked with Warhol on the important Death and Disaster series of paintings, which included Green Car Crash (Burning Green Car I).

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One Response to “Green Car Crash: Andy Warhol’s Death and Disaster Series”

  1. Et Cetera: Publick and Privat Curiosities Andy Warhol's Green Car Crash: $33,000,000 « Says:

    [...] Andy Warhol’s Green Car Crash: $33,000,000 April 30th, 2007 — disembedded Note: I have posted a newer article about Andy Warhol’s Silver Factory, the “Death and Disasters” series and Green Car Crash (Burning Green Car I), with an extensive detailed commentary and many illustrations  (Tuesday, May 8, 2007).  You can read it here: Link [...]


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