Andy Warhol, American, Race Riot, 1964, Oil and silkscreen ink on canvas; 76.2 x 83.5 cm (30 x 32 7/8 inches), The Albert Pilavin Memorial Collection of 20th Century American Art 68.047
Pop artist Warhol is best known for his playful Campbell soup cans and celebrity portraits, yet his work also explored the dark side of American culture. The Race Riot series reproduced 1963 press photos depicting police dogs attacking civil rights demonstrators in Birmingham, Alabama. These “death and disaster” paintings were part of a larger meditation on death in America. This topic emerged in tandem with Warhol’s technical innovation of screenprinting directly onto a primed canvas, now recognized as a turning point in art history. Painting with mass-printing techniques questioned the relative value of “original” as opposed to “commercial” art and yielded a distinct new aesthetic, key to this painting’s content. Race Riot’s flat screenprinting and enhanced contrast abstract the photographic image, heighten the distinction between black and white, and present a news item as a moment in history worth preserving.