Six months after a vivid image of Marilyn Monroe smashed records when it sold for $195m, a rather more dark and brutal work by the cult pop artist Andy Warhol may also be about to fetch a large sum.
White Disaster (White Car Crash 19 Times) – repeated graphic black and white images across a huge canvas measuring 12ft tall and 6ft wide – is expected to sell for at least $80m in New York next month.
It is part of Warhol’s 1960s Death and Disaster series that reflected the artist’s preoccupation with mortality. The last large Death and Disaster painting sold at auction, Silver Car Crash (Double Disaster), fetched $105m in 2013.
Sotheby’s, which will auction the piece on behalf of a private owner on 16 November, described it as a “monumental masterpiece”. It has not been on public view for more than 15 years.
Referring to Warhol’s devout Catholicism, Sotheby’s said: “There is no doubt that the physical magnitude of the panel – the largest of all Warhol’s single-panel car crash works – has the power to invoke a sense of awe and reverence akin to that of a religious altarpiece. In fact, the religious overtones of the work extend beyond its mere scale.”
It quoted the art historian John Richardson as saying: “The whole repetition of Andy’s imagery stems from the fact that he was Catholic. He went to church, he went to confession, he had to do 10 Hail Marys, 20 Ave Marias, and all this is reflected in the way his imagery is repeated again and again and again.”
Warhol began silkscreening images of car accidents, plane crashes and other catastrophes in the early 1960s, using photographs from newspapers and police archives as source material.
“When you see a gruesome picture over and over again, it really doesn’t have any effect,” he told an interviewer in 1963.
Warhol was raised by his devout Catholic mother, Julia, with whom he prayed daily throughout the two decades in which they shared a New York home. He went to church regularly, met the pope, and financed his nephew’s studies to become a priest.