A Scottsdale gallery could be making the biggest art sale in Arizona history on Saturday, when an Andy Warhol painting of an electric chair goes on the block.
The red and black acrylic silkscreen canvas, simply titled “Little Electric Chair,” is among 465 lots of art that Larsen Gallery is putting up for auction – but it has gained worldwide attention and could command a price of $2.5 million to $4.5 million.
The auction itself is a momentous event for Larsen Gallery: It is the largest lot of art it has ever put on the block and includes 55 lots, with 24 created by prominent Black artists.
Gallery owners Scott and Polly Larsen think the current owner of “Little Electric Chair” might well push the sale price past the piece that currently holds the title for the most expensive artwork sold in the state – a Thomas Moran painting that sold for $4.1 million at Scottsdale Art Auction in 2001.
That’s because the Warhol piece was owned by rock icon Alice Cooper, who re-discovered the relic that he had owned for 40 years four years ago.
Cooper, who rose to prominence for on-stage shock-rock tactics that included sitting in an electric chair – got an unstretched canvas of the electric chair image directly from Warhol’s factory. It was given to Cooper by a then-girlfriend. “This work was given to me during some crazy years, and I had completely forgotten I even owned it,” said Cooper.
Cooper felt it important to sell the painting through an Arizona gallery.
“Alice is deeply involved in Arizona with his foundation and he wanted to deal with a local gallery and keep it in Arizona,” said Scott Larsen “We have a couple of associates who have worked with Alice and we’ve had doings with him on other artwork in the past but it was his business manager Shep Gordon who reached out to us about the artwork.”
Polly added that Warhol’s piece merits attention – but the Cooper connection hasn’t hurt.
“The painting stands by itself, and a Warhol collector can appreciate it despite its association with Alice Cooper,” she said. “However, the fact that it is associated with him has drawn a lot of press and attention.”
“For the opportunity to have a major Andy Warhol piece that has the potential to sell as the most expensive piece sold at auction in Arizona is exciting, too,” said Polly.
The work is part of Warhol’s “Death and Destruction” series from 1964 and 1965 that featured source material from newspapers and police archives with images of suicides, car accidents and other mayhem.
Polly said the series was inspired by a conversation Warhol had with a critic who told him, “If you want to be considered an important artist and an icon of art history, you need to do something other than soup cans.”
Warhol – then famous for his painting of a can of Campbell’s soup and portraits of Marilyn Monroe and Elvis Pressley – accepted the challenge and created his most striking collection of the time.
The images were not commercially viable due to their shocking nature but critics deemed the series to be a critical part of his canon of work.
Cooper has gone on record as a bigger fan of the works of Salvador DalÍ.
“Alice is not necessarily a big Warhol collector so he wanted to give someone who might appreciate it more the opportunity to own it,” said Scott.
The Larsens are honored to be collaborating with Cooper on the work and are donating a portion of the “Little Electric Chair” sale proceeds to Cooper’s Solid Rock Foundation, which offers support to local teenagers.
“Little Electric Chair” is one of 11 Warhol lots that will be for sale at the auction.
In addition to the Warhol work, the Larsens also are jazzed about a collection of 55 works that include 24 by prominent Black artists.
“To me, it’s pretty amazing that a lot of the works that we have in the sale are from the early 90’s – which is when these particular collectors were collecting the works,” said Polly. “These were works that were speaking of what was happening during their time.”
“What’s amazing is that most of what is being said in this artwork is still happening today,” she said.
The 24 pieces from prominent black artists came lawyer Stanley and Mikki Weithorn’s personal collection.
“Stanley and Mikki Weithorn made a conscious effort to begin to collect things that made social statements,” said Polly. “We had been in touch with Mikki over the years and she decided it was time for her to sell the rest of her artwork.”
The pieces have all generated lots of attention but there are two pieces that the Larsen’s are excited to put to auction.
Also up for auction is an acrylic and fabric collage created by artist Emma Amos that measures 85” by 65” and features a unique print of former president Franklin Delano Roosevelt and his wife Eleanor sitting in a park on a sunny day surrounded by eyes of other prominent historical figures and bordered by the phrase “time will tell.”
There is also a print by Kerry James Marshall that has gotten a considerable amount of attention and features a woman holding flowers in front of a mural displaying fallen civil rights activists highlighted by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and John Fitzgerald Kennedy.
The Larsens expect to see thousands of bidders make offers on the works.
“The auctions typically generate about 3,000 to 4,000 registered bidders with about half being online,” said Scott.
Polly expects to see even more bidders than years past due to all the excitement surrounding the pieces.
“A lot more eyes are on the auction this year and we’re hoping to gain future consignments,” she said.
Added her husband: “We’re excited to have the full aspects of the auction back for the first time since the pandemic.”
If you’re bidding
What: Larsen Auction
When: 1 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 23.
Where: Larsen Gallery 3705 N. Bishop Lane, Scottsdale.
All pieces will remain on display at the Larsen Gallery until the day of the auction