Green Disaster #2 (Green Disaster Ten Times) by Andy Warhol

Andy Warhol

Green Disaster #2 (Green Disaster Ten Times), 1963, Silkscreen and acrylic on canvas, 272.6 x 201 cm, MMK Museum für Moderne Kunst Frankfurt am Main; Former collection of Karl Ströher, Darmstadt, 1981/57, © The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York; Axel Schneider, Frankfurt am Main

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For Tomorrow We Die

Individual Commentary
Commentary by
Chloë Reddaway

In post-war America, ‘the automobile became a symbol of … freedom, opportunity and the pursuit of happiness.’ Its ‘flip-side’ was ‘the car crash … the existential full-stop on life’s highway’ (Brown 2007a: 43). The car represented liberty and prosperity for the ordinary consumer-citizen, but in Andy Warhol’s 1960s ‘Death and Disaster’ silkscreen prints, it took on a darker aspect.

Green Disaster #2 bathes the black and white imagery of a newspaper photograph in green, creating haunting, almost surrealist scenes. The mundane world of suburban affluence is repeatedly shattered by tragedies striking ordinary people. Warhol’s acute awareness of the fragility of life is reflected in the ‘shallow photographic realism’ of his silkscreen work (Brown 2007b: 30).

In the repetition of these images Warhol both abstracts the reality of death to the point of desensitizing the viewer, and relentlessly hammers the image into the viewer’s mind. Nightmarish and yet banal, they take on a quality of inevitability. The limp body in a crumpled car might be anybody; horrific accidents are commonplace; everyone will die. The hedonistic American dream is no more proof against death than the ‘great possessions’ (2:7) of the author of Ecclesiastes (Qohelet). As Qohelet discovered, all is still ‘vanity’ and the wise and the foolish share the same fate (2:11–17).

It’s an observation which, in the absence of any deeper meaning in life, both supports the pursuit of pleasure and undermines it. ‘There is nothing better for mortals than to eat and drink, and find enjoyment in their toil’ but there is also ‘nothing to be gained under the sun’ and ‘one fate’ comes to everyone (2:11,15, 24). Neither in Qohelet’s philosophising nor in Warhol’s bleak view of 1960s America can pleasure and possessions answer the great existential questions. As St Paul sums it up: ‘If the dead are not raised, “Let us eat and drink for tomorrow we die”’ (1 Corinthians 15:32; cf. Isaiah 22:13).

 

References

Brown, Robert. 2007a. ‘Death and Disaster: Andy Warhol’s Car Crashes’, in Andy Warhol’s green car crash (green burning car 1): post-war and contemporary art evening sale Wednesday 16 May 2007 (New York: Christie, Manson & Woods International Inc.)

———. 2007b. ‘'Green Car Crash: June–July 1963’, in Andy Warhol’s green car crash (green burning car 1): post-war and contemporary art evening sale Wednesday 16 May 2007 (New York: Christie, Manson & Woods International Inc.)