Warhol and Cars: Pop Art and Motoring Met Often
When we think of “Andy Warhol” and “cars” almost all of us instantly think of the BMW M1 Art Car. Many think that iconic mid-engined race car is Warhol’s only venture into the automotive landscape, but the pop artist had many automotive works. Most recently, a 8’ by 13’ painting “Silver Car Crash (Double Disaster)” sold for $105 million! The work depicts a grisly car crash, and has only been shown publicly once in the last 26 years. (Warning: Some of these images are graphic) The sale bests the previous record for a Warhol work– $71.7 million set in 2007 for “Green Car Crash (Green Burning Car I).” That work was yet another graphic car crash and makes one wonder whether the painter or the buyer is more fascinated with culturally taboo artwork.
Still, it’s just the tip of the iceberg for Warhol’s general fascination with cars. The man focused on popular items, and few times were as mainstream as the automobile. Dating back to the 1940s, Warhol worked with cars, and was commissioned for various automotive works. Here you can see his 1958 work, "Car (1958 Cadillac Coupe DeVille)."
He would again work with iconic American luxury cars for Harper's Bazaar, in a series that included "Twelve Cadillacs" and "Lincoln Continental." But the first and second best selling Warhol’s were part of a 1962-1963 series on disasters, which also included “Red Car Crash” and "Ambulance Disaster."
Thankfully, the subject matter became lighter– euphemistically, of course, not physically. The M1 Art Car was completed in 1979. In typical Warhol fashion, he only took 23 minutes to paint the whole thing. (Note: Wikipedia claims that, unlike the three artists that preceded him in the BMW Art Car series, Warhol never used a scale model to practice, but if you look at the lead image, it appears that is exactly what he's doing.)
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In 1986, German art dealer Hans Meyer commissioned the painting of a 300SL to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the automobile. (Most folks wrongly assume that the Ford Model T was the first car. It was the first mass-produced car. And the Europeans, including the German and the French, had been making cars for decades by the time Henry Ford built the Model T) When Mercedes-Benz had seen the results they called on Warhol to create a series charting the evolution of the brand’s automobiles.
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The series was to start with Karl Benz’s 1885 Patent-Motorwagen, and would continue with the 1886 Daimler Motor Carriage, 1901 Mercedes 35 hp, 1937 Mercedes-Benz W125 racecar, and finishing off with the C111 concept car.
The C111 (below) is a novel car in of itself, and was used as a test bed for various technologies starting in 1969. It first featured a triple-rotor Wankel rotary engine, and gullwing doors. It would have been tremendous had Mercedes-Benz actually produced this vehicle.
RELATED: 1976 Mercedes-Benz C111
Warhol died in 1987, and never got to finish the entire collection. By the time of his death, however, Warhol had completed 36 silkscreens and 13 drawings of eight Mercedes models. His goal was to produce 80 pieces, covering 20 models. Though he never reached that goal, the remaining pieces are stunning reminders of the artists greatness, and that some people get just a little bit more than 15 minutes of fame.
Image Sources: NY Times, Artblat, NorthJersey.com, Allposters.com