Green Car Crash

Green Car Crash (Green Burning Car I), 1963

This work depicts the catastrophic conclusion to a police chase in Seattle in 1963. It is based on a black and white photograph taken by John Whitehead, which appeared in the June 3 issue of Newsweek. The image shows a suburban street transformed into a horrific disaster scene. The caption that accompanied the picture said: “End of the Chase: Pursued by a state trooper investigating a hit-and-run accident, commercial fisherman Richard J. Hubbard, 24, sped down a Seattle street at more than 60 mph, overturned, and hit a utility pole. The impact hurled him from the car, impaling him on a climbing spike. He died 35 minutes later in hospital.” 1

Andy Warhol's Green Car Crash: multiple black images of a graphic car wreck screen printed on top of a green background

Green Car Crash (Green Burning Car I), 1963, Andy Warhol, silkscreen ink and acrylic on linen, 90″ x 60″
(click on image to see it larger)

Death and Disaster series

Jackie Kennedy in mourning printed twice on a purple background

Jackie II, 1966, Andy Warhol

Green Car Crash is part of the Death and Disaster series, in particular the Car Crash paintings Warhol made between late 1962 and early 1964. Documentary source photographs from six separate, horrific and bizarre and fatal accidents are appropriated by Warhol for the paintings. The Death and Disaster series explored how tragedy and horror occurred to ordinary people on a daily basis. It also showed the collision of man and machine, with fatal and brutal consequences. This work was part of a show that Warhol intended to call Death in America. Warhol’s work contrasted the image of suburban America with the violence that existing just under the surface and threatened to burst forth constantly. The Death and Disaster series also introduced the idea that we as a society were becoming numb to violence and death, illustrated by the way that the image is reproduced multiple times as if it were a piece of celluloid film.

Warhol & Death

Death is a theme that runs through much of Warhol’s work. Green Car Crash shows the brutal reality of death, but it can also be seen in his silk-screened portraits. The Marilyn and Jackie pictures use similar appropriation and repetition devices as Green Car Crash (although their composition is different). Death is presented in different guises to the audience but in all we see how media and popular culture influences our reaction to tragedy.

Opening title shot from David Lynch's Twin Peaks

Other Artists

David Lynch’s Twin Peaks and Blue Velvet films are similar to Green Car Crash, in that they depict seemingly banal and idyllic suburban communities on the surface that hide a much darker reality of horror and depravity. It is a contrast in appearances that also appears in Green Car Crash – a typical suburban street that though violence is transformed into a place of death. 2

Critical Response

Warhol’s art [Death and Disasters] will convey the range, power and empathy underlying his transformation of these commonplace catastrophes. Finally, one can sense in this art an underlying human compassion that transcends Warhol’s public affect of studied neutrality.

Walter Hopps, foreword to Andy Warhol: Death and Disaster, p. 9

Live photo of a Christie's auction showing auctioneers on the left, a large pool of bidders and audience center, and Warhol's Green Car Crash to the right.

Andy Warhol’s Green Car Crash (Green Burning Car I) being auctioned at Christie’s auction house in New York on May 16, 2007. The painting sold for $71.7m, at the time a record for a Warhol. (On Nov 13, 2013 Warhol’s Silver Car Crash sold at auction for $104.5m)

I guess it was the big plane crash, the front of the newspaper: 129 DIE. I was also painting the Marilyns. I realized that everything I was doing must have been Death. It was Christmas or Labor Day, a holiday, and every time you turned on the radio they said something like “Four million are going to die”

Andy Warhol, 1964

I agree with what the critics and Warhol himself seemed to be saying that popular culture was changing the way that the public is general experienced and reacted to death. Walter Hopps suggests that though Warhol is placing a mirror to this death and disaster he is doing it so we the audience may get insight into our own reactions.

Themes

This work relates to the theme of Death as discussed in Warhol MOOC. The subject is a fatally wounded man, impaled on a spike, surrounded by the debris of his car set incongruously in a suburban neighborhood. It depicts the sudden horror of death waiting around every bend but the repetition of the image also alludes to our compassion fatigue as we become used to images of death and destruction.

Author: Carron Riach

I’m a 38 year-old full-time MOOC student and Courserian living in Toronto, Canada.

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