As Alice Cooper tells it, he was hanging out with Dennis Hopper at the Kentucky Derby back in the day when the topic of artist Andy Warhol came up.
Hopper was a noted Warhol collector who was selling a few of his pieces, and the discussion made Cooper remember that he, too, had a Warhol painting — in his garage. When he went home and located the painting, he found it was still in perfect condition.
Soon, Cooper will be selling that Warhol, Little Electric Chair, at auction on October 23. Larsen Art Auction in Scottsdale is handling the sale, which is expected to fetch $2.5 to $4.5 million.
The upper end of that range would make it the most expensive painting sold in Arizona, but Cooper's girlfriend, model Cindy Lang, paid just $2,500 for it when the couple was living in New York City in the early 1970s.
"We ran into Andy all the time at Max’s Kansas City and all those different clubs," Cooper told a pack of journalists during a May 13 press conference. That was the era when Cooper used an electric chair as a stage prop during concerts. Lang "saw [Warhol] doing this one at the Factory, and she said, 'I gotta have one of those for his birthday.'"
Little Electric Chair hung in Cooper and Lang's apartment, but with subsequent moves to California and Arizona, the painting somehow got relegated to the garage.
Cooper's Warhol is part of the artist's "Death and Disaster" series, a collection of work that also includes images of car crashes, riots, and a grief-stricken Jackie Kennedy. Little Electric Chair is an acrylic and screenprint on canvas that depicts the electric chair at New York's Sing Sing prison (the same one that convicted spies Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were electrocuted in).
Scott Larsen, owner of Larsen Art Auction, said that there are about 50 to 55 known Little Electric Chairs in a variety of colors, like blue, green, and yellow. Cooper's blood-red version is particularly striking, though.
Cooper said in a press release that he's selling the painting because "I just decided it was time to move on, time to release it to the world. I figured I'd had it for all this time and had almost forgotten about it — let's let someone else really enjoy it." Part of the proceeds from the sale of the painting will go to Solid Rock Teen Center, Cooper's youth outreach organization.
The sale of a Warhol could have been done through any prestigious international auction house, but Cooper said he had a particular reason for choosing Larsen.
"Arizona," he said. "I’m not from New York. I’m not from London. I’ve been here most of my life. So I figured Arizona should be part of this whole thing."
Larsen said, "We were thrilled when we heard that we were being considered. We’re very confident we can get it sold. … Warhol Electric Chair works have sold for much higher. The art auction market is pretty hot right now. We’ve very hopeful."
Getting $4.5 million for a $2,500 painting is a pretty good rate of return, but Cooper said that at the time, the thought of Warhol's work being valuable in the future wasn't a consideration.
"Nobody thought of it as an investment at all," he said. "It was just a cool thing to have."
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