People get up to all sorts of shenanigans under the influence of alcohol. Sending embarrassing text messages! Becoming uncomfortably emotive with strangers! Packing a Warhol into storage and forgetting about it for decades! The latter slip-up, admittedly, is an experience unique to Alice Cooper, who recently found an Andy Warhol silkscreen rolled up in a storage locker, as Edward Helmore reports for the Guardian. The shock rocker reportedly acquired and forgot about the work in a “swirl of drugs and drinking.”
The wild story dates back to 1972, when Cooper and Warhol met and became friends in New York City. “Alice had moved to New York with his girlfriend Cindy Lang,” the legendary manager Shep Gordon tells Helmore. “Andy was kind of a groupie, and so was Alice. They loved famous people. So they started a relationship, and they loved to hang out.”
During his stage shows at the time, Cooper would pretend to get zapped in an electric chair (as you do). The prop he used was similar to the real electric chair that was featured in Warhol’s aptly named “Little Electric Chair” silkscreens. Lang thought that one of the prints would make a great gift for the singer.
Warhol had borrowed an image from the death chamber at Sing Sing prison—taken upon the 1953 execution of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, who were sentenced to death for sharing classified information with the Soviets—and screenprinted it in a variety of colors. The works are part of Warhol’s Death and Disaster series, which, according to Roger Kamholz of Sotheby’s, saw the artist draw inspiration from macabre images of car crashes, suicides, and “even tainted cans of tuna fish.”
Recently, a Little Electric Chair silkscreen sold for $11.6 million at auction, but Lang and Gordon purchased a red copy of the work for just $2,500. Other details of the transaction are somewhat hazy. “Alice says he remembers having a conversation with Warhol about the picture,” Gordon tells Helmore. “He thinks the conversation was real, but he couldn’t put his hand on a Bible and say that it was.”
"It was a rock’n’roll time," he adds.
In 1978, not long after he received the gift, Cooper checked himself into a psychiatric facility to receive treatment for alcoholism.
The Warhol was stored with Cooper’s touring collection and promptly forgotten. But Gordon’s memory was triggered four years ago by a conversation with the art dealer Ruth Bloom, who told Gordon just how much Warhol’s works fetch today. With the help of Cooper’s mother, Gordon set out to look for the print, and found it rolled up in a tube inside a storage locker.
Warhol expert Richard Polsky tells Helmore that he believes Cooper’s print is “100 percent” authentic. The work is no billion dollar baby, in the words of the singer-songwriter—because it is unsigned, it is unlikely to fetch a hefty price at auction—but Cooper doesn’t seem to mind. According to Gordon, the rocker may hang his copy of Little Electric Chair in his home when he wraps up his current tour.