By Reagan Carraway
SOLD for an earth-shattering $84.5 million, White Disaster (White Car Crash 19 Times) has found a home. Its recent exhibition at Sotheby’s was the first time the work had been shown in public in 15 years, but its hiatus did not stop it from taking its place as the 4th most expensive Warhol ever sold at auction on November 17th. The silkscreen painting, hanging at 12 feet long and 6 feet wide, has existed in private ownership for the last 25 years and was bought in a short and sweet telephone bidding contest by an anonymous client. “Arguably the most significant artistic achievement of the artist’s career,” according to Sotheby’s, the 1963 work hails from the Death and Disaster series. Though Warhol gained POPularity through his reconfiguration of American iconography and advertisement art, his more overtly dark thematic works play an equally important part in his expansive oeuvre. Warhol’s fascination with the grotesque and play in fatal imagery emphasizes society’s increasing desensitization towards tragedy due to the overwhelming influx of news.
“When you see a gruesome picture over and over again, it doesn’t really have any effect.” -Andy Warhol
And while it may be a taboo observation to speak aloud, the mass attraction to the beauty of White Disaster amidst the horror it depicts reinforces Warhol’s assertion. The stark black and white contrast of the 19 prints are characteristic of a newspaper print gaudily exposing catastrophe. It’s transfixing, giving the saying “it’s like watching a car crash” a new meaning.
By experts, the works of Death and Disaster have been compared to history paintings and the great religious works. Perhaps what best supports their comparisons is the somehow exponentially increased relevance of Warhol’s glamorously ghoulish White Disaster with the passing years and its towering body asking us to answer for our apathy.