Andy Warhol's 3.6-metre 'Car Crash' painting could fetch US$80m at Sotheby's

Andy Warhol’s White Disaster (White Car Crash 19 Times) from his renowned Death and Disasters series will lead Sotheby's New York contemporary evening sale on 16 November. 

Measuring 367.7 by 210.5 cm, the monumental artwork is one of Warhol's largest Car Crash paintings and is expected to fetch a price in excess of US$80 million.

The last time a Death and Disasters painting appeared at auction was in 2013, when Silver Car Crash (Double Disaster) set the then artist's record at US$105.4 million. Earlier this May, the record was renewed by Shot Sage Blue Marilyn, which fetched US$195 million to become a new record-high for the Pop master, as well as the second most expensive painting ever sold at auction. 

Lot 114 | Andy Warhol | White Disaster [White Car Crash 19 Times], Silkscreen ink and graphite on primed canvas
Created in 1963
367.7 x 210.5 cm
Provenance (Amended by The Value):

  • Stable Gallery, New York
  • Heiner Friedrich
  • Christie’s New York, 5 May 1987, lot 82 (Sold: US$660,000)
  • Thomas Ammann Fine Art AG, Zürich (acquired from the above sale)
  • Acquired from the above in 1996 by the present owner

Estimate upon request, in excess of US$80 million

In June 1962, Andy Warhol had lunch with his friend Henry Geldzahler at one of his favourite haunts. At the time, Warhol as a rising Pop artist was working on images of Coca-Cola bottles and Campbell’s Soup Cans, and his young curator friend had a piece of advice for him: “It’s enough life, it’s time for a little death.”

What Geldzahler might not know then was that his words would inspire the Pop master to produce some of the most impactful work of the century.

In the same year, when Warhol saw a big plane crash picture on the headline news, the artist embarked on what would later be known as the Death and Disaster series, which is a group of seventy-odd artworks taking as their subjects atomic bombs, car accidents, electric chairs and other tragedies presented as highly quotidian in the media.

In exploring the weighty subject of life and death, the artist would appropriate source materials from newspapers and police photo archives, and employed the silk screen as a means to mechanically repeated these sensational images across broad swaths of canvas. “When you see a gruesome picture over and over again, it doesn’t really have any effect,” he later remarked.

Andy Warhol's Death and Disasters series began in 1962

The current lot exhibited in his 1989 retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art in New York

In the wake of post-war optimism and prosperity, automobile was then a physical embodiment of the American Dream, symbolizing freedom, independence and progress. By the year Warhol executed the present lot, 44 per cent of Americans owned one; yet, at the same time, more than 40,000 people died by car crash each year, an average of over 100 per day.

Through the Car Crash paintings, Warhol fearlessly probed a dark side of American society, addressing issues that most preferred not to acknowledge.

Created in 1963, White Disaster (White Car Crash 19 Times) stands at three metre tall, being the largest single-panel Car Crash painting from the series. Here, 19 imprints of a fatal collision reel appear in a cinematic sequence across the towering canvas, exuding an air of solemnity almost like an altarpiece.

Orange Car Crash Fourteen Times | The Museum of Modern Art in New York

Silver Car Crash (Double Disaster) | Sold for US$105 million in 2013

Only two other large-scale Death and Disaster paintings bear this impression of the crash, one of which, Orange Car Crash Fourteen Times, is housed in the in the Museum of Modern Art in New York; the other, Silver Car Crash (Double Disaster), once set the auction record for the artist.

Compositionally, while the present painting is vertically oriented, the other two works both employ a double-canvas format, showing silk-screened images cascading down on the left.

It has been nearly a decade since one of Warhol’s Death and Disasters paintings has come to the market – the most recent being the abovementioned record-breaking Silver Car Crash (Double Disaster). In 2007, another Car Crash painting with a different imprint, Green Car Crash (Green Burning Car I), sold for US$71.7 million at Christie’s New York.

Green Car Crash (Green Burning Car I) | Sold at Christie's New York for US$71,720,000 in 2007

Shot Sage Blue Marilyn sold for a record-breaking US$195 million this past May

White Disaster (White Car Crash 19 Times) was originally owned by New York’s Stable Gallery, where Warhol held his first solo Pop exhibition in the city. It later changed hands to Heiner Friedrich, a venerable art dealer and collector, and the founder of the Dia Art Foundation.

In May 1987, two months after Warhol’s death, the present lot was put up for sale at Christie’s New York and sold US$6.6 million to Thomas Ammann, a friend of the artist and a leading Swiss art dealer. Two years later, this painting was exhibited in Warhol’s 1989 retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

In 1996, the painting was sold to the present owner and is now back on the market after having remained in the same private collection for more than 25 years. If it meets its unpublished estimate of US$80 million, the work would be one of the top five most expensive Warhol paintings at auction.

Other Highlight Lots:

Lot 108 | Willem De Kooning | Untitled, Oil on canvas
Created circa 1979
177.8 x 201.9 cm

  • The artist
  • Thence by descent to the present owner

Estimate: US$30,000,000 - 40,000,000

Lot 120 | Francis Bacon | Three Studies for Portrait of Lucian Freud, Oil on canvas, in three parts
Created in 1964
Each: 35.6 x 30.5 cm
Provenance (Amended by The Value):

  • Marlborough Fine Art, Ltd., London 
  • Private Collection, Paris (acquired from the above in 1964)
  • Sotheby's London, 10 February 2011, lot 30 (Sold: £23,001,250)
  • Acquired from the above sale

Estimate: US$30,000,000 - 40,000,000

Lot 127 | Jean-Michel Basquiat | Saxaphone, Acrylic and oilstick on canvas
Created in 1986
167.6 x 152.4 cm
Provenance (Amended by The Value):

  • Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac, Salzburg
  • Private Collection, Brussels 
  • Christie’s London, 24 June 1993, lot 103 (Sold: £58,700)
  • Private Collection, New York 
  • Sotheby’s New York, 19 November 1997, lot 55 (consigned by the above) 
  • Private Collection (acquired from the above sale) 
  • Sotheby’s London, 26 June 2012, lot 20 (consigned by the above, sold: £2,729,250)
  • Private Collection (acquired from the above sale)
  • Acquired from the above by the present owner

Estimate: US$12,000,000 - 18,000,000

Lot 107 | Willem de Kooning | Montauk II, Oil on paper mounted on canvas
Created in 1969
184.2 x 178.4 cm

  • The artist
  • Thence by descent to the present owner

Estimate: US$10,000,000 - 15,000,000

Lot 110 | Joan Mitchell | Yves, Oil on canvas
Created in 1991
280 x 200 cm

  • Estate of the artist
  • The Joan Mitchell Foundation, New York
  • Cheim & Read, New York
  • Acquired from the above by the present owner

Estimate: US$10,000,000 - 15,000,000

Auction Details:

Auction House: Sotheby's New York
Sale: Contemporary Evening Auction
Date: 16 November 2022
Number of Lots: 39