Enzo Avitabile and his shocking chair

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Eighties, Pop & Rock

What makes writing this blog very rewarding, is when fellow collectors get in touch, and share their knowledge of local Warhol (or Warhol inspired) covers. Recently I got a message from Paolo Verda, an Italian architect, art and music lover, writer of prestigious books on collecting vinyl, and passionate collector of all things Warhol connected to music. When talking about his huge collection, Paolo told me about the cover art of Alta Tensione, a funky pop album from 1988 by Enzo Avitabile (an artist I had not heard of before, here in Belgium, to be honest).

‘Alta tensione’ is Italian for high voltage, or high tension. Enzo Avitabile illustrates this on the cover in a cheeky / shocking way: he is seated on a Warholesque electric chair. Not quite sure if it is an actual Warhol painting or print that was used, or an artistic interpretation of one.

Enzo Avitabile, ‘Alta tensione’, Costa Est/EMI Italia, 1988.

Andy Warhol produced three very different series of Electric Chair paintings (in 1963 large serial paintings, in 1964-1965 the Little Electric Chairs and in 1967 the Big Electric Chairs), and a portfolio of ten screenprints in 1971. Source for all of these was a black and white press photo of the electric chair used for executions in the Sing Sing prison, in New York. On this chair the couple Julius and Ethel Rosenberg was executed in 1953, convicted of espionage for the Soviets. Warhol painted his first electric chairs in his so called Death and Disaster series in 1963, which was also the last year the chair was used at Sing Sing.

(By the way, if you should want to buy an original Little Electric Chair from 1965, “shock rocker” Alice Cooper is selling his own copy, a red version, in auction in October this year, in Arizona. Fun fact: he totally forgot he owned this original Warhol, and found it rolled and stashed in his garage. Imagine his surprise! – Thanks to my friend Art Fenster from Phoenix, AZ for sharing this newslink)

I had a look in the first two volumes of the Warhol Catalogue raisonné of Paintings & Sculptures (Frei, Prinz) and Andy Warhol Prints (Feldman, Shellmann), but found no real match for the electric chair on the Enzo Avitabile cover. The closest resemblance – but not nearly close enough – is a painting from the 1967 Big Electric Chairs, nr. 2038 in volume 2B of the Cat. Raisonné of paintings.

Page from ‘Warhol: Paintings and Sculpture 1964-1969, Vol. 2B: The Andy Warhol Catalogue Raisonné’ by Georg Frei and Neil Printz, Phaidon 2004.

It is of course possible that the cover designer (Studio Convertino) started to work with the same original black & white press photo, and did their own Warholian thing with it.

On the back cover the image is repeated in multiple colours, and sequenced like a movie: the Italian singer sits on the electric chair, under high tension, but manages to get up, walk away and tell the tale!

Back cover art of ‘Alta tensione’: Enzo Avitabile manages to get out of the electric chair and walk away.

On both sides of the inner sleeve are a bunch of historical photos and iconic images in which Enzo Avitabile was inserted, a bit like Woody Allen’s Zelig, or Forrest Gump. Enzo is standing next to the young Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip, he is holding a gun while sitting between Reagan and Gorbatchov who are signing the INF nuclear missile treatment, he is standing in front of an atom bomb mushroom… Style and colouring are very Warholian. Two of the images in particular stand out: his head on a triple Elvis painting, and as a ‘Most Wanted Men’ mugshot.

Inner sleeve. Top row, in the middle, Enzo Avitabile’s head pasted on a triple Elvis painting by Warhol.
Inner sleeve, other side. Bottom row, middle: Enzo Avitabile’s head in police mug shots of Most Wanted Men. Warhol created a large mural Thirteen Most Wanted Men with these mug shots for the 1964 World Exhibition in New York, but it was rejected and painted over. Later he turned it into a series of paintings.

Just to stay in the theme of the electric chair: the same chair from Sing Sing was used and reworked as a logo for the undergound night club ‘the electric chair’ in Manchester, UK, run by the DJ’s Luke and Justin Unabomber. Pictured below is a triple 12″ compilation album released in 2001: basement soul music, a detonation by the unabombers.

One thought on “Enzo Avitabile and his shocking chair”

  1. Pingback: Album Cover Hall of Fame News Update and Link Summary for September, 2021 | Album Cover Hall of Fame.com

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