Andy Warhol. Photograph ©Steve Schapiro/Corbis.

NEW YORK - The last privately owned work in an historic four-painting series depicting car crashes by celebrated pop artist Andy Warhol will go on sale as part of Sotheby's fall auction season. The large-scale Silver Car Crash (Double Disaster) could fetch $60 million or more when it is offered at the Contemporary Art Evening sale on 13 November in New York

Silver Car Crash (Double Disaster), signed by Warhol and dated 1963, is the only one of four car crash paintings on this scale, from the artist’s seminal Death and Disasters series, that is not currently in a museum collection and by far the most reclusive; previous owners have included, Charles Saatchi and the famous Swiss dealer Thomas Ammann, but since 1989 it has remained in the same private collection and has been shown publicly only once in the past 26 years. The work goes on view at Sotheby's London gallery on 12 October in advance of a pre-auction exhibition in New York beginning 1 November.

Andy Warhol's Silver Car Crash [Double Disaster] will be offered at Sotheby’s Contemporary Art Evening sale 13 November. Estimate on Request.

Sotheby’s Worldwide Head of Contemporary Art Tobias Meyer has likened Warhol's Silver Car Crash (Double Disaster) to other monumental history paintings such as Pablo Picasso’s Guernica and Théodore Géricault’s The Raft of the Medusa. "When I saw this painting for the first time, I was completely blown away," Meyer said in a recent interview. "It's big, and it's powerful, and it makes you silent… It's like a great film."

Indeed, at over 8 feet by 13 feet in size and spanning two adjacent canvases, Silver Car Crash (Double Disaster) evokes the scale of a movie theater screen. The left-hand canvas repeatedly shows, in a grid of black images silk-screened over a silver background, a car gruesomely mangled around a tree following a brutal crash. By stark contrast, the right-hand canvas consists of only a vast, shimmering silver field, which Warhol created by silk-screening the canvas with reflective silver paint and then over-painting with silver spray paint. "The composition of the painting is very cinematic," Meyer explained. "If you go to old cinemas, you have these film rolls. When they rupture, then suddenly the 'silver screen' goes silver – because there is no image there anymore. And that is what he is painting; he's painting a cascading rupture of images, and then the whiteness next to it. Or the end of the image," Meyer added, alluding to the painting's arresting metaphor of the experience of death.  

Edie Sedgwick, shown here with critic Henry Geldzahler, Warhol and studio assistant Gerard Malanga, starred in several of Warhol’s films. Photograph ©Steve Schapiro/Corbis.

With its parallel exploration of death and mass media's ability to undermine death's emotional impact, Silver Car Crash (Double Disaster) engages with many of the themes Warhol would pursue throughout his career as an artist. Tellingly, Warhol executed this and the other three provocative Death and Disaster series pictures during the same period that bore his famous portraits of Elizabeth Taylor, Marilyn Monroe, and Jackie Kennedy – all celebrities whose private experiences of death and disaster were amplified and adulterated by media's obsessions. Liz #1 (Early Colored Liz), executed in the same year, will also be offered in the sale.  

Andy Warhol’s Liz #1 (Early Colored Liz), 1963 will be offered at the Contemporary Art Evening sale 13 November. 
Estimate $20,000,000-30,000,000.

Today, Warhol's Death and Disaster series stands as one of the most significant artistic projects of the 1960s. But, as if foretold by the paintings themselves, viewing them through the lens of hindsight can dull their truly sensational powers: Meyer pointed out that Warhol's Death and Disaster series were so overwhelming in their own time that many galleries refused to show them. It was only later, in the 1970s, Meyer said, that public appreciation finally caught up with Warhol's brilliant vision.

Tags:Auctions, New York, Contemporary Art, Artist