Most drunken purchases are best forgotten.
But not this one.
The rock star Alice Cooper was so caught up in “a swirl of drugs and drinking” that he apparently forgot he owned a silkscreen of an electric chair by his friend Andy Warhol that could now be worth several million dollars.
The forgotten work has spent the best part of the last 40 years in a storage space, and was only rediscovered four years ago, when Alice’s mother found it “rolled up in a tube” in the locker.
The work has never been stretched on a frame.
According to a report in The Guardian by the British writer Edward Helmore, Cooper’s then-girlfriend organized the purchase of the work, a red Little Electric Chair silkscreen, from Warhol’s Death and Disaster series, for $2,500 in the early ’70s.
However, amid the chaos of his rock ’n’ roll lifestyle, Cooper forgot all about the purchase, and was shortly afterward admitted to a psychiatric hospital, according to his manager, the legendary promoter Shep Gordon.
Gordon told The Guardian that Cooper and Warhol became friends in New York in the ’70s.
“It was back in ’72 and Alice had moved to New York with his girlfriend Cindy Lang,” Gordon told The Guardian. “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.”
At the time, Cooper had a stage routine that involved him feigning electrocution in an electric chair.
After learning that Warhol had produced images of the electric chair—the work is based on a press photograph from Jan. 13, 1953, of the death chamber at Sing Sing prison, where Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were executed for passing atomic secrets to the Russians—Lang, who passed away in January at the age of 67—had the idea to approach the artist’s studio and purchase one of the 1964 canvases.
“As I recall,” Gordon told The Guardian, “Cindy came to me for $2,500 for the painting. At the time Alice is making two albums a year and touring the rest of the time. It was a rock ’n’ roll time; none of us thought about anything. He ends up going into an insane asylum for his drinking and then leaves New York for L.A.
“Alice says he remembers having a conversation with Warhol about the picture. He thinks the conversation was real, but he couldn’t put his hand on a Bible and say that it was.”
After a chance meeting with Los Angeles art dealer Ruth Bloom, Gordon was reminded of the work, which measures 22 x 28 inches, and Alice’s mother found it rolled up in a tube in storage.
Upon learning that the top price paid for a Little Electric Chair was $11.6 million, at Christie’s in November 2015 for a green version dated 1964, Cooper said he didn’t want anything of such value in his house—and put it back into storage.
Richard Polsky, a Warhol expert, said he believes the canvas dates to 1964 or 1965.
“I’m 100 percent,” Polsky told The Guardian. “It looks right, and the story just makes too much sense. It’s hard to appreciate how little Warhol’s art was worth at the time. Twenty-five hundred was the going rate at the time. Why would Andy give him a fake?
“He had plenty of electric chairs. They were not an easy sell. They weren’t decorative in the conventional sense. It’s a brutal image.”
Gordon added: “At the time no one thought it had any real value. Andy Warhol was not ‘Andy Warhol’ back then. And it was all a swirl of drugs and drinking. But you should have seen Alice’s face when Richard Polsky’s estimate came in. His jaw dropped and he looked at me.
“‘Are you serious? I own that!’”