Science Museum buys Warhol's Old Sparky

Wednesday 10 September 1997 23:02

An electric chair once owned by pop artist Andy Warhol yesterday sold at auction for pounds 4,800. In a few minutes brisk and tense bidding, London's Science Museum secured the chair over an anonymous telephone bidder from California in the sale at Bristol Auction Rooms.

The all-steel chair was once owned by California's Department of Penal Correction. It was the main item in more than 30 lots of pop art memorabilia associated with Warhol. It had a guide price of pounds 2,000-pounds 4,000.

The 61-year-old chair was in the prison system, including the infamous Alcatraz, St Quentin and Chino. Its role was more of a visual deterrent than of lethal purpose.

Warner Bros used it as a film prop in the fifties. It featured in Inside the Walls of Folsom Prison, Crimewave, and Alfred Hitchcock's I Confess.

Warhol acquired it later and was said to have used it to watch horror films at home. His associate, Pietro Psaier, included it in a 1970s joint exhibition of their work when it was christened Rest in Peace: Pax.

Two frock-coated characters from the London Dungeon Museum of Horrors - Mr Death and his assistant - had hoped to bid for the chair, with their bidding card appropriately numbered 666.

But Mr Death - Peter Osborne, 29 - never got a bid in as his top price of pounds 4,000 was the starting point for the bidding.

Science Museum curator, Neil Brown, said that it was hoped to exhibit the Warhol chair within six to ten months in the medical collection.

He said: "We understand it was used in at least one American institution for executions. It is part of history and the Science Museum deals not only with the nice things but the nasty bits as well. And the electric chair was certainly one of the nasty bits."

Some American states still rely on an electric chair for their executions.

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