Electric Chairs by Andy Warhol is a portfolio of ten different electric chairs, published in 1971. The premise of taking an object that holds a very specific meaning, isolating, abstracting and repeating it, is something that Warhol does throughout his work. By performing this process in his Electric Chair complete portfolio, the subject is no longer the electric chair and what it does; it’s about the image itself and the colors found in it. Notably, Electric Chairs ranks amongst Warhol’s top 10 most valuable portfolios of all time.
One of Warhol’s most famous series is the Death and Disaster collection, in which he explored images of plane crashes, suicides, and car crashes found in the media. They are his most controversial and thought-provoking works, and add another darker dimension to his art. Warhol first used the image of the electric chair in 1963, the year in which New York State conducted its final two executions at Sing Sing Penitentiary. The artist decided to explore themes of capital punishment in his work at the time, as it was a topical political theme that incited great contention.
Warhol also remained preoccupied with the overwhelming amount of news reports about violent deaths, and by taking and repeating these images from the media, he could comment on the desensitization of such pressing issues. As he once said, “When you see a gruesome picture over and over again, it doesn’t really have any effect.” (Swenson, “What is Pop Art? Interviews with Eight Painters, Part I,” Art News 62 (November 1963): 24-27, p. 60-63). Revolver Gallery has a complete portfolio of Warhol’s Electric Chair (FS II.74-83) available for purchase, as well as individual prints from the series.
Electric Chair as Part of Andy Warhol’s Larger Body of Work
As with many of Warhol’s work, he comments on American society with his Death and Disaster series. Warhol created the first image of the electric chair the same year that New York’s Sing Sing Penitentiary had its final two executions by electric chair. There was societal uproar during the 1960s surrounding the death penalty. With the series, Warhol also comments on society’s ability to numb itself from routinely-occurring tragedy. Like we have seen with other works by Warhol, the repetition of an image begins to reduce its power. He said, “When you see a gruesome picture over and over again, it doesn’t really have any effect” (“What is Pop Art?” 60). Warhol continued to work with this concept throughout his career.