Visual aesthetics, rigorous use of composition and astute choice of subject matter come together in Andy Warhol's, Suicide, 1964, to create a work of power, beauty and tragedy. After decades of modernist abstraction, Pop Art restored representation and objective imagery to painting, reflecting the world in which it thrived via electronic and print media. Many interpreted the subject matter of Pop Art as too readily recognizable and easily accessible and did not realize the deeper conceptual aesthetic issue that was central to Warhol's oeuvre - how modern media was affecting modern life and consciousness. Andy Warhol stands as one of the most acute observers of this phenomenon. Suicide is an outstanding example of the artist's Death and Disaster series that reveals Warhol's pre-occupation with the contradictions inherent in public and private despair.
The Death and Disaster series may have at first appeared to be a startling choice of subject for the new star of Pop Art and the painter of mundane consumer products such as the Campbell's Soup Can. Yet, over the intervening decades, this body of work has been recognized as his most important and complex. Warhol had a striking fascination with death and, overtly or subtly, the theme is a vein that runs through a large portion of his overall output - from celebrity paintings to self-portrait to car crashes. The Deaths and Disasters were both self-inflicted, and socially determined. They do not appear at all sentimental; capturing the choreography of death rather than the emotional import. The raw humanism of the images of suicides, catastrophes, tragic car accidents and capital punishment is juxtaposed against Warhol's desire to be detached and machine-like, revealing the contradictory impulse that led him to produce such powerful and moving works of art.
In the 1960's, for the first time in art history, items such as advertisements, movie stills, magazines and newspaper photographs played a dominant role in artists' creative thinking. A dramatic growth in leisure time among affluent societies increased readership of print and film media. Often the same photograph or video clip was shown repeatedly in periodicals and on television screens, inuring the public to certain images no matter how potent their content. The irony of this appealed to Warhol, who subtly used this brand of imagery to infuse raw emotion into his subject matter. Warhol began his Electric Chairs in 1963, exploring the banality of death in the modern world. An empty electric chair is a forceful and jarring image of death that is instantly recognizable as an iconic image of legalized and supposedly civilized killing. In Warhol's Suicides death is humanized. In both series the viewer is presented with a sense of imminence. There is an unsettling emptiness in the Electric Chair paintings, as though the victim is waiting to be brought to execution. In the present work the viewer can not help but anticipate the ultimate fate of the free falling body.
At times Warhol chose to cloak images from the Death and Disaster series in repeated patterns. The Car Crash series depicts anonymous victims and indiscriminate death in a much more blatant manner, but with a sense of "slippage" in their impact that results both from the artist's technique and the nature of news photography. Within his detached stance, the artist's actual intent was not to render the scene as anonymous but to point out the particularities and unique tragedy of an individual death. In a 1963 interview, Warhol described his attraction to his source material. "When you see a gruesome picture over and over again, it doesn't really have any effect. ...and I thought people should think about them some time. ...It's not that I feel sorry for them, it's just that people go by and it doesn't really matter to them that someone unknown was killed so I thought it would be nice for these unknown people to be remembered." (Gene Swenson, "What is Pop Art?", Artnews 62, November 1963, pp. 60-61)
In 1962 Warhol created the artistic enterprise for which he is most famous - the use of silkscreen technique to create fine art. The medium appealed to Warhol visually for its tonal contrasts and grainy cinematic effects, but more importantly he appreciated the flexibility of the medium. Warhol is believed to have created and dated his first Suicide silkscreen on paper in 1962, one of his earliest uses of the photographic silkscreen process. In 1964, Warhol produced an additional four or five versions of this image, including the present work, according to the Leo Castelli Gallery records and Rainer Crone. Warhol's silkscreens on paper, such as the present work and Cagney, have an individuality as they demonstrate the silkscreen process at its most basic - the variables in ink and the action of the screening itself. The incredible tonal range, raw imagery, and intense subject matter of Suicide produce an effective impact on the viewer and make the work a resonant example of Andy Warhol's Death and Disaster series.
Silkscreen ink on paper
Zurich, Kunsthaus; Humlebaek, Louisiana Museum, Andy Warhol, 1978, cat. no. 83, illustrated and cat. no. 34 (Louisiana)
Hannover, Kestner-Gesellschaft; Munich, Städtische Galerie im Lenbachhaus, Andy Warhol, Bilder 1961-1981, 1981 - 1982, cat. no. 20, illustrated
40 x 30 in. 101.6 x 76.2 cm.
Exh. Cat., Stockholm, Moderna Museet, Andy Warhol, February - March 1968, illustrated (another example)
Rainer Crone, Andy Warhol, New York, 1970, cat. nos. 604 and 607, p. 272, illustrated (two other examples)
Richard Morphet, Andy Warhol, London, 1971, fig. 56, p. 82, illustrated (example unknown)
Rainer Crone, Andy Warhol, New York, 1976, cat. nos. 603 and 607, p. 272, illustrated (two other examples)
John Coplans, Andy Warhol, London, 1978, p. 108, illustrated (another example)
Carter Ratcliff, Andy Warhol, New York, 1983, cat. no. 35, illustrated (another example)
David Bourdon, Warhol, New York, 1989, pl. 130, p. 138, illustrated (another example)
Exh. Cat., Houston, The Menil Collection, Andy Warhol: Death and Disasters, 1988, cat.. no. 2, p. 47, illustrated (another example)
Exh. Cat., New York, Museum of Modern Art, Andy Warhol, A Retrospective, 1989, cat. no. 266, p. 260, illustrated (another example)
Leo Castelli Gallery, New York (#D-31)
Galerie Beyeler, Basel
Helmut and Margot Kraetz Collection, Dreieich
Sotheby's New York, May 14, 1999, lot 8
Acquired by the present owner from the above
Show bids Estimate