The JPEG reaches me as an attachment in an email. It shows the painting in the museum in Tehran, mounted on a white wall between something that looks like two concrete pillars – the roof and ceiling are not visible. The canvas seems to be placed in the middle of the wall, forming a uniform frame around the painting. The caption is in the middle to the right of the painting. I try to magnify the image in Photoshop in order to read the text, but the resolution is too low. Then I do a Google image search: ‘Andy Warhol Suicide (Purple Jumping Man)’. I find two images that show the whole work.1 On the computer screen the two images have different shades of purple from the one I received in my email – a darker reddish purple and a paler greyish purple. I click on two other images that show a detail of the work – the man jumping. The first image directs me to a black-and-white reproduction on a web page about art and suicide,2 while the second image seems to have been uploaded by a visitor who has photographed the painting in the museum.3
Thinking about this painting I imagine a series of visual experiences connected to it. The original horrifying scene as observed through a viewfinder by an anonymous photographer who had the presence of mind to release the camera shutter at the right moment; the artist seeing this image and appropriating it into his artwork; someone considering the painting at a gallery and deciding to purchase it;4 a museum curator hanging the painting on the wall; and last in the chain of viewers, the museum visitor observing the picture in the museum.
Thirteen years ago, I had email conversation with the American performance theoretician Peggy Phelan for the Danish magazine Øjeblikket.5 The subject was on several of Andy Warhol’s work from the 1960s. Phelan writes beautifully about the Suicide series: “I think Warhol saw death as fundamental to both art and life. In this sense, we can say Warhol was ‘driven’ by death as an artistic subject and as a psychic force.” Then she makes a reference to Freud’s essay ‘Beyond the Pleasure Principe’ and writes
He [Freud] seems to suggest [in this essay] that we remember our deaths, or perhaps more precisely, that we remember ourselves as dead, and that the power of this memory can sometimes prompt us to forget life, or what he calls Eros, the life drive. What resonates for me in Freud’s work in regard to Warhol’s art, and especially the work on suicide, is the literal connection Warhol makes across such memories. […] That is, by looking at how (and why and when) death comes to other people, we are able to “return” to the memory of our own deaths. […] For the memory of ourselves as dead is an anticipatory memory, a gasping toward the future that is a return to the past.6
I have never seen the painting itself but the reproductions and Phelan’s words awaken memories, although I am too far away to actually see them. In New York on September 11, 2001, at 9:03am, I saw the second plane fly into the south tower. I was standing on the intersection of 11th Avenue and 19th Street – and there, I pictured falling bodies.
- Search made on 14 March 2013 http://previousexhibitions.fondationbeyeler.ch/e/html_11sonderaus/08andy_warhol/12_firehouse.htm# http://radicalart.info/kinetics/gravity/Jump/index.html↩
- Search made on 3/14/2013 http://www.flickr.com/photos/23325267@N03/8394002132/
- The painting was likely purchased from the Leo Castelli Gallery in 1978.↩
- Peggy Phelan is an American scholar and one of the founders of Performance Studies; she currently teaches at Stanford University. We have published three email conversations together: M. Leiderstam and P. Phelan, ”What Drives Andy Warhol – An E-mail Conversation Beween Matts Leiderstam and Peggy Phelan”, Øjeblikket, vol 2 2000; M. Leiderstam, Works 1996 – 2001, Antenna, (Stockholm, 2002); M. Leiderstam, View, Minetta Brook, (New York, 2004).↩
- Øjeblikket, p. 72.↩