Andy Warhol in conversation with Gene Swenson, Art News, New York November 1963, cited in: Harrison and Wood, Art Theory 1900-1990, 1992, p. 732.
Car Crash is an outstanding and powerful work of art that reveals Warhol’s preoccupation with the contradictions inherent in public exposure and private despair.
Based on an unidentified press photograph, this image of a mangled car with its driver lying contorted, face down within the wreckage, belongs to what is arguably the most extraordinary, strange and disturbing source image of all those used in Warhol's famous and seminal Death and Disaster series which he commenced in 1962. The work was created at approximately the same time as the 1979-80 Reversal Series of paintings. Adding to its rarity, Car Crash is an intimate and personal work because Warhol used to give such unique impressions to friends, colleagues and clients.
Immediately and universally recognisable, Car Crash shows Warhol’s ability to turn from common commercial objects, such as Campbell’s Soup, to a darker side of American culture. Here he captures a moment of reality, of transition, when life is extinguished into death, the banal and the mundane into the exceptional and extraordinary. The original photograph captivated Warhol’s imagination at precisely the same time that it terrified him.
As the academic Neil Printz has pointed out, it represents the painful aftermath of the car culture revolution of America in the 50s and 60s. The American dream turned into a nightmare: “The automobile as a vehicle of social mobility and leisure was a proud attainment of the working middle class during the prosperity of the post-war years. Pictures of car crashes represent a breach of faith in the products of the industrial revolution by featuring consumer products that bring death”. (Neil Printz, Painting Death in America, Andy Warhol: Death and Disasters, Houston, 1988, p. 17)
Warhol's Car Crash is among the most powerful, challenging and provocative works made by any artist in the Post-War era.
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