This is the first exhibition of Andy Warhol’s Disaster paintings in New York, and the first in a series of exhibitions devoted to the artist’s work organized by Dia at 77 Wooster Street.
In the early 1960s, when other artists associated with Pop art in the United States were merging the iconography of commercial images with the traditional format of easel painting, Warhol began using silkscreen to serially transfer news media images directly onto canvas. The paintings in the Death and Disaster series (1962–65)—six of which, each created in 1963, are included in this exhibition—appropriate images of electric chairs, automobile crashes, and other tragic scenes from local tabloids.
Because Warhol repeatedly transferred ink through the same increasingly smudged screens, the monochromatic images visibly deteriorate as they repeat across each canvas. For some critics, this process testifies to a disabused vision of American life, or a subjectivity traumatized by modernity. For curator and Warhol confidante Henry Geldzahler, the Disaster paintings represent a tonal shift within Pop art. While the early movement celebrated the aesthetics of consumer culture, later Pop art engaged more seriously with the politics of representation. The serialized and repetitious images in this series might be taken to demonstrate the desensitizing effect of the media’s repetitive presentation of violent images.
Andy Warhol was born in Pittsburgh in 1928. He died in New York City in 1987.