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Sinister Pop – Gürsoy Doğtaş

Andy Warhol, Mustard Race Riot, 1963

Introducing text

Andy Warhol’s “Mustard Race Riot” is one of the key works of the Brandhorst Collection. In his essay, Gürsoy Doğtaş opens up a new perspective on the diptych: He places the focus of observation on the racist structures in the presentation of Black civil rights campaigners.


Whenever the police kill unarmed and innocent Black men and women in the United States, this is justified as self-defense. During his arrest, Eric Garner was thrown to the ground in a stranglehold by police officers in New York. Helplessly, he let the officers know that he couldn’t breathe. Only after he had been suffocated did they loosen their grip. George Floyd also did not survive his arrest. An officer of the Minneapolis Police Department kneeled on his throat for minutes on end, until Floyd lost consciousness and subsequently died. In the face of such deadly police violence, Judith Butler wonders if the police officers really did fear that they might be attacked by dying people;[1] if they really believed that their own lives were in danger while they were hunting down those arrested for minor offences.

Perfidious forms of reversal are taking place here, says Butler. Instead of protecting lives, the police legitimize their deadly actions in advance by wildly exaggerating the possible propensity to violence of those arrested. They justify their own aggression and intention to kill as self-defense, usually without any legal consequences. Representing a society organized in racist terms, they decide that Black lives are not worth preserving. In the last few years alone, Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, Walter Scott, Alton Sterling, Philando Castile, Stephon Clark, Breonna Taylor, Shelly Frey, Kayla Moore, Sandra Bland, Michelle Cusseaux, Tanisha Anderson, Rekia Boyd, Shantel Davis, Kyam Livingston and Miriam Carey—to name just a few—have lost their lives at the hands of police officers, some of them on camera[2].

In 2013 the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement was formed against the institutional racism of the American security forces—with far-reaching consequences that have gone down in art history. Depictions of police violence must be questioned as potential carriers of the toxic reversal described above. This also applies to Andy Warhol’s “Race Riots” series of 1963/64. To call a series “Race Riots,” in whose pictures a defenseless African American is encircled by white police officers with snarling service dogs, appears from today’s perspective not only misleading, but it also seems to adopt the police rhetoric unquestioningly. Although this may be unintentional—or at least we expect it is—, the series title defends or at least relativizes the police’s brutal actions. These implications of this are examined below.


Warhol produced four large “Race Riots,” including a diptych. There are also ten small “Race Riot” panels, which were grouped together to form a total of six works (including one diptych and one four-part “Race Riot”). The coloring of the canvas—for example in red, white, blue or silver—is reflected in the respective title. The mustard-colored “Mustard Race Riot” (1963) in Museum Brandhorst (consisting of two panels: a silkscreened one measuring 289.2 x 208.3 cm and an unprinted one measuring 287.7 x 208.3 cm), is the largest work in the otherwise rather small-format (76.2 x 83.8 cm) series, and is also designed as a diptych. Warhol divided the picture into two halves of almost equal size, one of which remains blank, as a monochrome. The entire “Race Riots” series, in turn, is part of a larger series of silkscreens that Warhol completed between 1962 and the beginning of 1968. Titled “Death and Disaster,” this series, as in a pandemonium, brings together images of horror from the United States. Each individual picture from this macabre series deals with the reality of death in American society and culture: motifs include the electric chair, used for executions; dozens of car accidents; food poisoning and suicide. Warhol took the pictures from daily newspapers, magazines and journals. The series began—though not yet as silkscreen—with the news of a plane crash on the front page of the weekly “New York Mirror” dated June 4th, 1962. Warhol used the headline “129 Die in Jet” as the title of his piece. In an interview with the art critic Gene Swenson, he later recounted that when the news of the catastrophe reached him, he had been painting pictures of Marilyn Monroe. Only then did he realize “that everything I was doing must have been Death.”[3] So he turned away from the consumer culture and celebrity cult of the American dream, which was marketed as so life-affirming and which he had celebrated and auratically exaggerated up until that point. Working within the economically prosperous, highly industrialized post-war society of the United States, he looked at its disturbing flip side and used screen printing to reproduce, like mass-produced goods, the collateral damage caused by their sensationalized images from the domestic culture of killing, dying and mourning[4].

Unlike “129 Die in Jet,” the title “Race Riot” does not come from either the headline or the caption of the motif taken from “Life Magazine” of May 17th, 1963. Throughout the entire ten-page photo essay by the photographer Charles Moore, with its short accompanying texts, the phrase “race riot” does not appear once[5]. The title, which in “129 Die in Jet” had served to double what is seen in the medium of language, gives way in the “Race Riot” series to a paraphrase that, although common, articulates the artist’s self-chosen aid to interpretation rather than referring to the source texts of the motif. Peculiar twists between works and titles are not uncommon in art history. The description “Untitled” in a museum, for example, may communicate, on the one hand, the artist’s renunciation of a title, while on the other hand this very title takes on a special meaning by breaking with convention. Other titles have been adapted as part of modernization projects. A few years ago, the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam screened its entire collection for racist and dehumanizing terminology dating from the Dutch colonial era[6]. Consequently, for example, Jan Mostaert’s “Portrait of a Moor” (1525–1530) was renamed “Portrait of an African Man.” Such extensive renaming does not violate the artists’ positions, since most works prior to the 18th century were untitled, and were only named by dealers and notaries after the “mobility of images” (Ernst H. Gombrich) had begun. It was only later that artists regarded the title as an integral part of their works[7].

The autonomy and independence of art and artistic freedom protect these titles from alteration, as in the case of “Race Riot.”

“Riot” usually means a violent and senseless disturbance of public peace by an unorganized group of people. Warhol’s title suggests irrational destruction and violent excesses. To this day, a part of the US public frames protests such as BLM as “race riots”—a term that is accepted unquestioningly by the German media[8]. Then as now, the protests of those people whose lives are endangered are used against them. This shifts the focus away from the demands of the protesters. By labeling them disturbers of the peace, their justified reaction to oppression is denied legitimacy. The dimension of violence is also distorted: accordingly, the demonstrators are not responsible citizens but rather part of an “angry mob” that endangers the lives of innocent people. Once the fears of white people are stirred up in such a manner, any rational discussion of the demands being made inevitably fails to materialize. Instead, these demands are displaced by a call for “law and order”: brutal police violence, which had triggered the protests in the first place, is now expected to restore order. Warhol’s designation of his portrayal thus falls short of what had been the subject of his source material in “Life Magazine.” This is why Okwui Enwezor has called the title “a curious misnomer.”[9]. In fact, Charles Moore’s photo reportage shows decidedly peaceful anti-segregation protests, in Birmingham, Alabama, against the so-called Jim Crow laws which had created a comprehensive system for perpetuating the existing racial hierarchy, implementing spatial and social segregation even after the official end of slavery in the United States in 1865. The demonstration in question was organized by Martin Luther King with his civil rights organization “Southern Christian Leadership Conference” as an instance of “non-violent direct action” in accordance with their political program[10].

Zweiteiliges Bild. Auf der linken Seite stehen drei Feuerwehrmänner, die Wasser aus einem Feuerwehrschlauch auf auf dem Boden sitzende Personen richten, die auf der rechten Seite sind. Auf dem Bild steht: The spectacle of racial turbulence in Birmingham.. They fight a fire that won't go out.
LIFE Magazine
LIFE Magazine 30-31
LIFE Magazine
LIFE Magazine
LIFE Magazine

Moore’s photo reportage of the protests of May 3rd, 1963 for “Life Magazine” show in large-format pictures how security officials harass the demonstrators with water cannons, batons and barking dogs. The excess of violence undeniably emanates from the officers alone. Some of these black-and-white photographs would become key documents of the civil rights struggle, including the motif adopted by Warhol—more precisely, a sequence of three moments of dramatic confrontation. In the largest single image, white police officers and their dogs surround a single African American man wearing Sunday clothes and a straw hat. He stands with his back to the camera. Two police officers set their dogs on him. One of the German Shepherd dogs leaps at the man with bared fangs. The other has already bitten into his back pocket and is about to shred his right trouser leg. On the right in the foreground of the picture, another police officer with a baton and a German Shepherd seals off the scene, as if preventing one of the demonstrators from intervening and freeing the man under attack. Despite the threatening scenario, the man does not offer any resistance. In the other, smaller pictures, too, he remains calm as the dogs prevent him from escaping the attacks. He retains his dignity, even though his legs and part of his underwear have been exposed by the tears in his pants. Stoically, he withstands the police officers, who deprive him of his rights and reduce him to bare, naked life. The mere existence of the African American in public space justifies state-sanctioned violence. Days earlier, protesters had been rounded up and arrested. The prisons were overcrowded, but the protests continued, so the police escalated the level of violence to drive the protesters away. In addition to physical violence, their racist strategy was to deprive African Americans of any sense of belonging and to make them realize that they would always remain out of place, separated from the general body of the population.

What is being evoked here is a dichotomy characteristic of the democratic slave state based on the same racist distinction of skin color or race that had existed before the abolition of slavery: One kind of order regulates “a ‘community of fellow creatures’ governed, at least in principle, by the law of equality.”[11] Another, also legally documented kind of order excludes the “non-equals” from participation. In his book “Necropolitics,” the political scientist and historian Achille Mbembe sums this up as follows: “A priori, those without part have no right to have rights. They are governed by the law of inequality. This inequality and the law establishing it, and that is its base, is founded on the prejudice of race.”[12] Important philosophers of the Enlightenment, such as Immanuel Kant, fueled these racial prejudices with supposedly scientific treatises, as well as the complementary fictions of an alleged superiority of white people. In this “science,” according to the literary scholar Susan Arndt, “skin color” allows conclusions to be drawn about mental abilities[13]. Claiming scientific authority, this invented inequality was objectified as a “natural and just social order” and thus the democratic slave state was approved in the United States[14]. The N-word used in this context has clear pejorative connotations and is based on biologistic classifications whose philosophical basis goes back to the beginnings of Western philosophy and its obscure climate theories. For a long time it remained an undisputed standard term before it was disqualified as insulting, unless it was chosen by Black people as a self-description in an emancipatory sense, which was still the case at least in the 1960s.

The layout

The title “Race Riot” overlooks not only the peaceful character of the protests shown in the photo reportage and switches victims and perpetrators; it also disregards the broader context of violence to which the African American population was exposed. In Birmingham alone, Black civil rights activists were the target of more than 21 bomb attacks between 1955 and 1963, in which many people were killed. Law enforcement tolerated and encouraged racist violence and terrorist acts. Numerous police officers belonged to the Ku Klux Klan. White jurors protected perpetrators from conviction. Instead, those protesting non-violently for civil rights were arrested as “criminals” and “lawbreakers”[15].

It is not only the title that miasmatically inverts the violent relationships actually prevailing in American society at that time; Warhol’s silkscreens also fail to expose the ideological twist of the “Life” reportage, which on the one hand wanted to help the Black civil rights movement achieve greater visibility and recognition, but at the same time reproduced racist thought patterns. In his work “129 Die in Jet,” for example, he used the entire title page of the “New York Mirror,” thus exposing the mechanisms of tabloid reporting. From “Life Magazine,” by contrast, he extracted only the three images and omitted the layout with its headline and caption. The double page mentioned above shows unmistakably that the texts in “Life” denounce the protests. On the one hand, the caption (by an unknown author) aims to expose the racism of the Birmingham police chief; at the same time, however, it portrays the protestors as cunning strategists who gain media attention from the police’s actions. The racist terms employed in the quoted passages are not reproduced here (this also applies to the other quotations in the course of the text):

„Mit aggressiven Diensthunden griff die Polizei die Demonstranten an – und schenkte ihnen also einen weltweiten Aufschrei, der rund um den Globus Unterstützung für die N-Wort von Birmingham gewinnen sollte. Wenn die N-Wort selbst das Drehbuch für diese Episode geschrieben hätten, so hätten sie sich zur Unterstützung für ihre Sache wohl keine größere Hilfe wünschen können als die, welche der Polizeipräsident der Stadt, Eugene ‚Bull‘ Connor, ihnen reichlich zuteilwerden ließ. Als [Connor] seine Männer anwies, weiße Schaulustige doch näher heranzulassen, sagte er: ‚Ich will, dass sie sehen, wie die Hunde ihre Arbeit machen. Seht, wie diese N-Wort rennen!‘ Diese ganz außerordentliche Bildfolge – so brutal es auch ist, wenn die Hose des N-Wort von Connors Hunden in Stücke gerissen wird – ist doch der aufmerksamkeitsheischende Jackpot, den die Provokation der N-Wort eingebracht hat.'

While Moore’s news photos owe their iconic status to the political change of mood they generated, especially in the more liberal North and on both the West and East Coasts of the United States, whose support significantly pushed the stalled civil rights legislation in favor of the protestors, nevertheless the caption confuses the protagonists: it is not the representatives of the civil rights movement who are depicted as agents of change, but rather the ruthless Chief of the Birmingham Police Department, who misjudges the approval of the white population vis-à-vis his aggressive approach and thus unintentionally brings about changes in favor of the civil rights movement[17]. The title of this double-page spread takes a similarly sarcastic tone—“The Dogs’ Attack is the N-words’ Reward,”—which transforms the radicalism of the police into a reward for the demonstrators. The aggressive German Shepherds, trained to attack, hark far back into the terrible collective memory of the United States, when dogs were used to hunt down escaped slaves. Under these conditions, the hunted become prey and are thus banished from the category of “human”[18]. Deprived of their rights, the slaves are dehumanized into commodities, while the dogs are protected as living beings. With its ominous—and simply wrong—headline, the magazine unmasks its own cruelty. Bénédicte Boisseron, whose anthropozoological research concentrates on African American and African studies, has revealed continuities of intimidating police dogs that extend to the present day. Even today’s heavily militarized police uses German Shepherds against the African American population, such as in 2014 during the protests against racist police violence in Ferguson, Missouri, where the 18-year-old African American student Michael Brown was shot and killed by a police officer. A study the following year showed that the dogs, which are allegedly color-blind, were specifically trained to terrorize the African American population[19].

The weekly news magazine “Life,” which at the time enjoyed the highest circulation of such publications—in the 1960s it sold seven million copies per issue, with a reach of around thirty-two million readers—takes only the white and thus hegemonial perspective[20].Some captions in the report give the names of the police officers, while demonstrators—even those portrayed individually—are shown without names and are referred to by means of the N-word, which was in common use at that time. At the end of the reportage, “Life” gathers views on the protests from the inhabitants of Birmingham. No assessments, comments, or prognoses by Black people are included; only white people are surveyed, and the majority of them, in turn, think that the civil rights protests only served to exaggerate the existing situation, without saying a word about the police violence, let alone distancing themselves from it. Some of the activists’ stories would be published only half a century later—such as that of Mrs. Williams, traumatized by German Shepherd dogs, who still hardly dares to enter public buildings “protected” by guard dogs[21]. (The President of the United States at the time of writing, Donald Trump, knowingly reactivated this trauma when he warned the anti-racism demonstrators after George Floyd’s death of the “vicious dogs” he would unleash on them[22].)

With this reportage, “Life” marked on the one hand a progressive paradigm shift, since the magazine now reported prominently for the first time on the sociopolitical concerns of the civil rights movement. On the other hand, the magazine’s orthodoxy, in which African Americans were limited to marginal roles in the American drama, continued, and their voices continued to go unheard[23].

One narrative about the photo reportage emphasizes that the images of police violence polarized the white population: into progressives and liberals in the North, who understood the demands of the civil rights movement, and into reactionaries in the South, who wanted to maintain the status quo. With the help of the former, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 actually did repeal the Jim Crow laws. For progressives, it became socially unacceptable from then on to profess white superiority. Archetypically, the image of racists is narrowed down to those white people who openly disparage, verbally and physically attack, hound, bludgeon or kill African Americans. However, the idea that only “bad” people are racists obscures how both progressive and reactionary white people have carried latent and structural racism, albeit with varying degrees of intensity, to the present day[24]. The structural or institutional racism of the police does not even require any specific right-wing ideology. The security forces do not take preventative action against their own discriminatory behavior, but rather encourage it through random personal checks, such as so-called racial profiling. In this way they generate police statistics that are used to justify further controls on the basis of physical characteristics[25].

LIFE Magazine 30-31


In order to create visual proximity, Moore does not zoom in on the events with a telephoto lens for these photographs, but instead directly enters the scene of the protest with short focal lengths[26].He seems to be following the instructions of the city’s police chief, Eugene “Bull” Connor, who—as can be seen from the caption—expressly invited white onlookers. Close to the activists, the image details testify to his direct presence. Yet he does not photograph the events from the perspective of the African Americans under attack, but rather approaches them together with the police.

Warhol’s silkscreens pursue an opposite strategy. He countered Moore’s personal involvement with an impersonal, mechanical reproduction of the photos[27]. With the short, technical-aesthetic instruction “plese [sic] make contrasts very Black & white” on the double spread of the magazine, Warhol commissioned the photo lab to rework the original into printing screens. He ordered the slightly differently-sized images of the layout in a uniform size. Between May 1963 and 1964 he produced the silkscreen panel images. In “Mustard Race Riot,” the three photos are multiplied several times over and fill the entire printed panel like film strips placed vertically next to each other, sometimes cropped.

While the intent of Moore’s photographs is to be absorbed into real events, Warhol’s silkscreens distance themselves from the mechanisms of media images. The more often the politically charged photographs circulate in public, the more they miss—from Warhol’s point of view—their affective potential. Right when he began his series of death and disaster images, he affirmed in conversation with Swenson that the more frequently a gruesome image is viewed, the less effective it becomes[28]. Its meaning fades, becomes emptier and therefore “better,” according to Warhol[29]. Instead of renewing or intensifying the horrifying aspect of the motif, Warhol allows it to become increasingly redundant, and with each repetition detaches it further from the substantive references of the context in which it first appeared, as well as from the indexical reference to the respective source images[30]. In addition he “empties out” the photo on a technical-aesthetic level: with each application of the silkscreen, the famous photos lose their details and image sharpness[31]. The uneven spread of silkscreen ink and the intentionally sloppy handling of the screen allow the brightness and saturation of the motifs on the canvas to vary. Warhol overmodulates the image contrast to such an extent that the fine gray shades sometimes become spots[32]. In the process, details such as the torn dark trouser leg and the naked skin beneath become blurred. On some of the silkscreens, Warhol reduces the man under attack to a mere black silhouette—whereas the skin tone of the police officers becomes one with the primer color of the silkscreen. Ultimately, the “incarnate color” of the police officers, which characterizes the title of the work, also dominates the picture on the aesthetic level—as in no other silkscreen from the same series. This peculiarity was also documented by Warhol’s advice on setting up his solo exhibition at the Institute of Contemporary Art in Philadelphia in 1965. He abbreviated the title “Mustard Race Riot” to “Tan N-word Painting”[33], using the mustard color as an allusion to the sun-tanned skin of the police officers. Since both the activists’ and the police officers’ skin color darkens, the contrasts are emphasized rather than aligned. Paradoxically, the coloring makes the peace activist disappear in the picture arrangement, and at the same time the picture centers on the unrecognizable black blank space[34].

In its depletion of the source image, “Mustard Race Riot” goes much further than the other silkscreens in the same series. Warhol expands the emptiness to an independent monochrome panel, thus allowing the print to become a double image. The mustard shade covers both panels like a flat surface. On the half that is covered completely with silkscreened images, the color functions as a background, while on the other half it stands for itself. Unlike, for example, in Color Field Painting, Abstract Expressionism or the Post-painterly Abstraction (Clement Greenberg) of the 1960s, Warhol does not regard the monochrome canvas as an autonomous image in the tradition of non-representationalism[35]. He distinguishes between the “screen” as a projection surface for news photos, but also the fantasies of the viewer; and the “blank,” the monochrome panel, which remains without content. “In the juxtaposition of the dense, frantic, sensational, shocking contemporary imagery on the first panel with absolutely nothing on the second, Warhol appears to pose an existential question about the nature of the difference between the two.”[36] The emptiness of the one canvas exposes the “artificiality” of the disturbing news images of brutal police violence. It “refutes” the silkscreened panel, just as the silkscreened images, in turn, refute the empty panel. The art theorist Michael Lüthy describes this interaction as follows: “The refutation is thus first articulated in the two individual picture panels of the diptych, on the left by the proliferating, potentially endless repetition of the same motif, which negates the possibility of the one successful picture, and on the right by the contrary display of the missing picture. Both refutations at the same time mutually refer to each other, in that the incessant ‘talking’ of the silkscreen is answered by the ‘silence’ of the ‘blanks’, and vice versa.”[37] This difference from his own photos eluded Moore when he took legal action against Warhol for copyright infringement[38]. Like Moore, the French press found it difficult to qualify the artistic value of the appropriation in Warhol’s first European solo exhibition, “Warhol.” Of the more than one hundred “Death and Disaster” pictures, Warhol exhibited eight in the Sonnabend Gallery in Paris in 1964. The French daily newspaper “Le Monde” reacted negatively to the world premiere of these pictures, claiming that Warhol neither added anything to the original pictures nor removed anything, and attacked Warhol as a copyist. It is not Warhol who should be acknowledged and appreciated, runs the mocking conclusion, but rather the original photographer or the persons depicted[39].

Politics of the surface

When Warhol was asked why he made Moore’s politically charged photos a motif in his “Race Riot” series, he first appeared unreflective, then indifferent. About the “Death Series” in general, he told the journalist Gretchen Berg that there was no deeper reason for it, only a superficial one[40]. And speaking to fellow Pop artist Claes Oldenburg in a conversation published in the art magazine “Artforum” in 1966, Warhol insisted that it had never been his intention to become politically active in the present. Oldenburg asked him: “Do you feel that when you are repeating [subject matter] the way you do, that you are eliminating yourself as the person extracting the statement from it? When I see you repeat a race riot I am not so sure you have done a race riot. I don’t see it as political statement but rather as an expression of indifference to your subject.” Warhol confirmed to Oldenburg: “It is indifference.”[41] The same year, the art theorist and curator Lucy R. Lippard interpreted Warhol’s indifference as a conscious reflection of the ignorance of society as a whole in the United States—and thus very clearly political. In her remarks on Pop Art she states: “Warhol […] refuses to comment, and aligns himself with the spectator who looks on the horrors of modern life as he would look at a TV film, without involvement, without more than slight irritation at the interruption by a commercial, or more than slight emotion at tear-jerking or calamitous events.”[42]

As early as 1966, a whole spectrum of interpretations of Warhol’s “Race Riots” opened up: either he is indifferent and avowedly apolitical, or he is political because he shows American society its own apathy by way of his indifference.

Variations of both positions can be found in the art historical discussions of subsequent years and decades. How apolitical can he be, it is often asked, when the “Death Series” contains so many political motifs, and in particular the “Race Riots”? For Enwezor, Warhol created a kind of visual indictment with the three photos from “Life”: “The recursive registers of the imagery make the frame-by-frame display he uses in the paintings feel almost prosecutorial, as if he were putting America on trial.”[43] Enwezor continues: “They [the three pictures of the ‘Race Riots’] tell us that the vulnerability of the black body, its constant violent desecration by apparatuses of state violence, remains part of America’s unfulfilled ideal of freedom and social equality. The ‘Race Riots’ display the wound in all its resplendent and sickening colors.”[44]

Two decades before Enwezor, Thomas Crow also attested that “Warhol was attracted to the open sores in American political life….”[45]. In Warhol, Crow sees the resurrection of the lost tradition of “truth telling.” Anne M. Wagner sees Warhol as an artist who, although he positions himself politically as a liberal, places himself in the tradition of a history or salon painter through his “Race Riots”: “The frames [of the three motifs] he uses bear comparison to Salon painting, in full historical flight. They have singular protagonists, actions and reactions, onlookers and actors, all caught equally in the ongoing swirl of events.”[46]

The opposing view does not recognize any history painting in the “Race Riots”: Warhol simply offers his audience the beauty of horror, believes Francesco Bonami. He is no Théodore Géricault, who in his masterpiece “The Raft of the Medusa” (1819) does not spare the viewer the emotional implications of the event depicted, which made the painting itself a political issue[47]. Although Warhol looked very closely at the events of his time, he did not turn social critic. His abilities consisted precisely in “pillaging” the visual chronicles during the years of civil rights struggles, in order to then “neutralize and purify of moral content” the political motifs for his silkscreens[48]. Hal Foster also rejects the idea of a politically engaged Warhol: “This reading of Warhol as empathetic, even ‘engagé’, is a projection.”[49].

Even if it is not possible to answer conclusively whether Warhol was an (un)political artist or not, it can be stated from today’s perspective that, as a white artist who appropriated an image of Black suffering without participating in the civil rights movement, he was at least insensitive to this suffering: whether through the choice of title, the display of his indifference to the political implications of Moore’s photographs, or his careless confusion of the scene of the protests with other cities in Alabama such as Selma or Montgomery, thus de-specifying and depoliticizing landmark events of the civil rights movement[50]. Even if Warhol was unmistakably lamenting the victims of white supremacy or accusing the white perpetrators in his “Race Riots,” his careless appropriation of the suffering associated with those images merely continues, strictly speaking, the logic of the white supremacy.

Already during his lifetime, Warhol profited both monetarily and symbolically from the trauma of the African American population, and after his death one of the “Race Riot” pictures would be sold at auction in 2014 for an astronomical 62.9 million dollars. At the same time, the Pew Research Center, a non-governmental polling organization, determined that the opportunities for African Americans to advance socially to the medium-to-upper income brackets were very limited and that twice as many of them live in poverty than do members of the white comparison group[51]. While the silkscreen on which police officers devalue the life of an African American man gains unimaginable value, white society continues to regard Black lives as worthless and allows them to be shot by the police. Later, in white art institutions that work against the structural racism of the art business and art history, “Race Riot” takes space away from anti-racist works by artists who themselves have been subjected to racism. The displacement of the protesters from the public space to the pictorial level of the silkscreen print is repeated, at a structural level, in the museum.

Anti-racist endeavors, however, are sometimes thwarted not only in the exhibition space, but also in the composition of a museum’s supervisory board. Thus a businessman like Warren B. Kanders was able—until his resignation—to co-finance the Whitney Museum of American Art with his income from tear gas production[52]. While Warhol’s “Race Riot” addressed the topic of police violence in the museum, the supervisory board was arming the police with tear gas—at least until protests by the artists and the general public put an end to such conditions[53].

The text was changed by the author on 20.07.2021. In order to historically situate the rhetoric and the idiomatic differences of the chosen ascriptions, and to shed light on the structurally racist aspects of the magazine as well as Warhol’s work, in the first version racist terms were initially reproduced verbatim in the quoted passages. This version has chosen to refrain completely from reproducing these terms.


Judith Butler, The Force of Nonviolence [e-book], London/New York 2020, 95.

The names of the female victims are taken from: African American Policy Forum (AAPF), “#SayHerName. Resisting Police Brutality against Black Women,” see the official AAPF website:

The prevailing conditions under which police violence against African Americans is registered experiences an additional level of discrimination along gender lines. Butler writes: “Of course, the frame for this violence has to be expanded to include forms of violence that target race and gender at once, and so to reveal that sometimes the violence against black women, in particular, takes place in different scenes, in different sequences of events, and with differing consequences. The report ‘Say Her Name: Resisting Police Brutality against Black Women,’ published in July 2015 by the Center for Intersectionality and Social Policy Studies, led by Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw and Andrea Ritchie, makes clear that nearly all of the main examples in the media illustrating police violence against black people in the United States involve black men, establishing that the dominant frames for understanding anti-black racism and police violence operate within a restrictive gender framing. Calling for ‘a gender-inclusive approach to racial justice,’ Crenshaw has independently drawn attention to the way that black women are overpoliced and underprotected, but also to how their injuries and deaths are not as fully documented or registered, even within those social movements explicitly focused on opposing police violence.” Cf. Butler 2020 (ibid. fn 1), 96 f. In her short lecture “The Urgency of Intersectionality,” Crenshaw, who coined the term intersectionality, describes very vividly the mechanisms of multiple discrimination of African American women in the United States. On this point see, i. a.:

A very brief comment on the situation in Germany:

Numerous examples of police violence that invert perpetrators and victims can also be found in Germany. Police officers who broke Lola Diaz’ tibia and fibula in 2017 during the protests against the G20 summit in Hamburg (one incident among many). Cf. i. a. Axel Schröder, “Nur Demonstranten auf der Anklagebank,” Deutschlandfunk, July 9th, 2020, online (German):

A police officer who kicked an arrested person (who was already handcuffed defenselessly) with his boot. Cf. the AFP report in: taz, August 19th, 2020, online (German):!5708681/.

Then there are both the numerous right-wing extremist avowals by police officers and their support for right-wing organizations, which are repeatedly trivialized as individual cases. A cursory overview of the structural racism among the police can be found i. a. here: Tom Schimmeck, “Zu viele Einzelfälle,” Deutschlandfunk, December 20th, 2020, online (German):; Hans Pfeifer, “Gefahr von rechts. Polizei als Bedrohung?,” Deutsche Welle, September 16th, 2020, online (German):

Gene Swenson, “What Is Pop Art? Answers from 8 Painters (Part I),” Art News 62 (November 1963), 24–27 and 60–63. And online:

Cf. the following articles on Warhol’s Death and Disaster pictures:

– Thomas Crow, “Saturday Disasters. Trace and Reference in Early Warhol,” Art in America 75 (May 1987), 129–136. And online:

– Anne M. Wagner, “Warhol Paints History, or Race in America,” Representations 55 (1996), 98–119

– Hal Foster, “Death in America,” October 75 (1996), 37–59

– Peggy Phelan, “Andy Warhol. Performances of Death in America,” in Performing the Body/Performing the Text, edited by Amelia Jones and Andrew Stephenson, Abingdon 1999, 223–236

– Francesco Bonami, “Paintingslaughter. How Warhol Did Not Murder Painting but Masterminded the Killing of Content,” in: Andy Warhol/Supernova. Stars, Deaths, and Disasters, 1962–1964 (exhibition catalog Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto), Minneapolis 2005, 20–27. And online:

– Michael Lüthy, “Warhols Disaster-Diptychen. Das Dementi als Bildform,” in Der dementierte Gegenstand. Artefaktskepsis der russischen Avantgarde zwischen Abstraktion und Dinglichkeit, edited by Anke Henning and Georg Witte, Wiener slawistischer Almanach, Vol. 71, Munich 2008, 475–507

– John R. Blakinger, “‘Death in America’ and ‘Life’ Magazine. Sources for Andy Warhol’s ‘Disaster’ Paintings,” Artibus et Historiae 33 (2012), 269–285

– Bradford R. Collins, “Warhol’s Modern Dance of Death. Work and Text,” American Art 30, 2 (2016), 32–57

– Okwui Enwezor, “Andy Warhol and the Paintings of Catastrophe,” in Andy Warhol. From A to B and Back Again, edited by Donna M. De Salvo and Jessica Beck(exhibition catalog Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Art Institute of Chicago), New York/New Haven/London 2018, 34–41.

No author, “They Fight a Fire That Won’t Go Out,” in: Life 54, 20, May 17th, 1963, 26–35, with photographs by Charles Moore.

Cf. on this point the self-declaration by the Rijksmuseum, online:

Cf. Ruth Bernard Yeazell, Picture Titles. How and Why Western Paintings Acquired Their Names, Princeton 2015.

Cf. i. a.: Annika Schneider, “Sagen & Meinen. Rassenunruhen – ein ‘grundfalscher’ Begriff,” in: Deutschlandfunk, June 9th, 2020, online (German):; Samuel Misteli and Julia Monn, “‘Die Sprache der Ungehörten’. Chronologie der Rassenunruhen in den USA seit den 1960er Jahren,” Neue Zürcher Zeitung, June 3rd, 2020, online (German):; Jakob Biazza, “Framing-Check: Rassenunruhen. Übersetzungsfehler mit Nebenwirkungen,” Süddeutsche Zeitung, June 10th, 2020, online (German):; Katy Steinmetz, “‘A War of Words.’ Why Describing the George Floyd Protests as ‘Riots’ Is So Loaded,” Time, June 8th, 2020, online:

Enwezor 2018 (ibid. fn 4), 38

Cf. Raymond Gavins, “Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC),” in: The Cambridge Guide to African American History, Cambridge, MA 2016, 259–260.

Achille Mbembe, Necropolitics, Durham, NC 2019, 17.


Susan Arndt, “Das Machtsystem. Geschichte des Rassismus,” taz, July 8th, 2020, online (German):!5694138/.

Ibid. Susan Arndt quotes from Kant’s “Of the Different Human Races” (Von den verschiedenen Rassen der Menschen, 1775), in which he explicitly regards the white supremacy over the slaves and the indigenous population in the United States as necessary.

Cf. i. a.: Diane McWhorter, Carry Me Home. Birmingham, Alabama, the Climactic Battle of the Civil Rights Revolution, New York 2001; William Terence Martin Riches, The Civil Rights Movement. Struggle and Resistance, London 1997; Michael J. Klarman, From Jim Crow to Civil Rights. The Supreme Court and the Struggle for Racial Equality, New York 2004.

No author 1963 (ibid. fn 5), 30. There is no editorial information on the author of the texts accompanying Moore’s photo essay.

Cf. Martin A. Berger, “Fixing Images. Civil Rights Photography and the Struggle Over Representation,” RIHA Journal 0010, October 21st, 2010, online:

Bénédicte Boisseron, Afro-Dog. Blackness and the Animal Studies, New York 2018, 71.

Ibid., 38 f.

Blakinger 2012 (ibid. fn 4), 276–278.

Boisseron 2018 (ibid. fn 18), 6 f. The document does not reveal Mrs. William’s full name. She experienced police violence in Selma, Alabama. The threat of dogs also occupied the leaders of the civil rights movement. Malcolm X urged people not to remain defenseless when confronted by dogs. He said: “If a dog is biting a black man, the black man should kill the dog, whether the dog is a police dog or a hound dog or any kind of dog. If a dog is fixed on a black man when that black man is doing nothing but trying to take advantage of what the government says is supposed to be his, then that black man should kill that dog or any two-legged dog who sets the dog on him.” Boisseron opens the chapter “Blacks and Dogs in the Americas” with this passage. Cf. ibid., 37.

Cf. i. a. Sydney Trent, “Trump’s Warning That ‘Vicious Dogs’ Would Attack Protesters Conjured Centuries of Racial Terror,” The Washington Post, June 1st, 2020, online:

Cf. Berger 2010 (ibid. fn 17).

Robin DiAngelo, White fragility: Why It’s so Hard for White People to Talk About Racism, Boston, MA 2018, 71.

Andreas Wettlaufer, “Black Lives Matter und die strategische Ausrichtung des Antirassismus. Die Notwendigkeit eines materialistischen Antirassismus,” Transit Magazin, July 11th, 2020, online (German):

In conversation, Moore explained his choice of lens as follows: “I didn’t want to stand back and shoot [the events] with a long lens. I didn’t have much equipment at the time, no lens longer than a 105 mm, but even a 105 would have kept me out of the action. No, I wanted to shoot it with a 35 mm or a 28 mm lens, to be where I could feel it, so I could sense it all around me. […] I wanted to get a feeling of what it was like to be involved.” In: Michael Schelling Durham, Powerful Days. The Civil Rights Photography of Charles Moore, New York 1991, 28, cited in Berger 2010 (ibid. fn 17).

Lüthy 2008 (ibid. fn 4), 495.

This much-quoted passage comes from the magazine Art News and says there:

“When did you start with the ‘Death’ series?

Warhol: I guess it was the big plane crash picture, the front page of a newspaper: 129 DIE. I was also painting the Marilyns. I realized that everything I was doing must have been Death. It was Christmas or Labor Day—a holiday—and every time you turned on the radio they said something like, ‘4 million are going to die.’ That started it. But when you see a gruesome picture over and over again, it doesn’t really have any effect.” Swenson 1963 (ibid. fn 3), 60.

In fact, the entire interview is heavily edited. Two years ago the art historian Jennifer Sichel transcribed the tape recordings of this conversation. Swenson’s question “Because the gruesome ones are so gruesome that they don’t have any effect?,” for example, becomes a self-declaration by Warhol in the final version of Art News. The transcript can be accessed here: Jennifer Sichel, “‘What is Pop Art?’ A Revised Transcript of Gene Swenson’s 1963 Interview with Andy Warhol,” Oxford Art Journal 41.1 (2018), 85–100, online


Andy Warhol and Pat Hackett, POPism, New York 1980, 50.

Cf. Foster 1996 (ibid. fn 4), 41 f.

Lüthy 2008 (ibid. fn 4), 495.

Ibid., 485.

Andy Warhol capitalized the N-word in this description. Cf. The Andy Warhol Catalogue Raisonné. Paintings and Sculpture 1961–1963, edited by Georg Frei and Neil Printz, London i. a. 2002, 384.

Lüthy exemplifies this opposing view based on Warhol’s silkscreen Ambulance Disaster (1963/64). Lüthy 2008 (ibid. fn 4), 487

Ibid., 497 f.

Cf. “Lot Essay” (no author given) in the Christie’s sales catalog from 2004, online:

Lüthy 2008 (ibid. fn 4), 501.

Cf. Patricia Krieg, “Copyright, Free Speech, and the Visual Arts,” The Yale Law Journal 93 (1984), 1565–1585, here 1568; Wagner 1996 (ibid. fn 4), 106.

Blakinger 2012 (ibid. fn 4), 282.

Unsuspecting that the reception of his art in Paris would chafe against the automated image production of the screen printing process, Warhol had decided against such icons of mass consumption such as soup cans, Coca-Cola bottles, dollar notes and portraits of Hollywood stars, for fear of overly critical reactions from the French art establishment to subjects that were typical for him at the time. [Wagner 1996 (ibid. fn 4), 98.] Instead he condensed, like a cabinet of horrors, the dark side of the shiny surface of the American dream. In that respect such a composition also departed from the narrative, typical of the Cold War era, of the propagation of American art through cultural programs abroad that were funded by the CIA.

Warhol’s images of everyday atrocities in the United States must have been strategically welcome to Ileana Sonnabend since her focus on American art had earned her the reputation in the French press of being an “imperialistic CIA agent.” [Blakinger 2012 (ibid. fn 4), 282.] It is not without a certain political symbolism that the only picture of the Birmingham series, “Red [Pink] Race Riot” (1963), hangs on the wall of the stairwell that connects both floors of the gallery—precisely the spot where, in 1962, Jasper Johns had hung his version of the US flag during the gallery’s opening exhibition. Unlike Johns’ small picture, however, Warhol’s monumental screen print fills the entire wall. Thus he also dominates the visual axis from the upper level with the automobile accidents or the poisoning by canned tuna. “Positioned this way,” surmises Enwezor, “and with the flaming-hot red-and-pink cast of its silkscreen ink and acrylic paint, and the agitated field of action of the multiple frames, the painting must have seemed ablaze in the Gallery.” [Enwezor 2018 (ibid. fn 4), 38.] French critics who tried to disqualify the silkscreen print or to repel the cultural chauvinism, missed an important element of transfer. For at this time, in other words two years after the end of the Algerian War, a racism against Algerians was ignited in France that in hindsight seems like a prefiguration of present-day right-wing populist views. [Cf. i. a. Todd Shepard, Sex, France & Arab Men 1962–1979, Chicago 2017.]

Gretchen Berg, “Andy. My True Story,” Los Angeles Free Press, March 17th, 1967, cited in Foster 1996 (ibid. fn 4), 39.

Bruce Glaser, “Oldenburg, Lichtenstein, Warhol. A Discussion,” Artforum (February 1966), 20–24.

Lucy R. Lippard, Pop Art, New York 1966, 97–101.

Enwezor 2018 (ibid. fn 4), 37.

Ibid., 40.

Crow 1987 (ibid. fn 4), online.

Wagner 1996 (ibid. fn 4), 109.

Bonami 2005 (ibid. fn 4), online.


Foster 1996 (ibid. fn 4), 39.

In The Andy Warhol Catalogue Raisonné, the editors point to Warhol’s lack of knowledge about the civil rights movement. In one passage he wrote “Mongomerty [sic] dog Negro,” in another “Selma.” The two editors summarize: “Warhol grasped the fundamental subject of these images—Negroes, dogs, civil rights—without recalling its particular context, whether Birmingham, Selma, or Montgomery.” In: Frei/Printz 2002 (ibid. fn 33), 380.

Cf. Pew Research Center, “On Views of Race and Inequality, Blacks and Whites Are Worlds Apart,” June 27th, 2016, online:

Robin Pogrebin and Elizabeth A. Harris, “Warren Kanders Quits Whitney Board after Tear Gas Protests,” The New York Times, July 25th, 2019, online:

Cf. the report in Artforum (July 19th, 2019): “Artists Withdraw from Whitney Biennial As Backlash Builds against Warren Kanders,” online:

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