Who Is Andy Warhol's Red Race Riot?

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Andy Warhol’s Red Race Riot silkscreen of 1963 depicts a scene from the Birmingham campaign during the Civil Rights Movement, appropriated from Charles Moore’s Life Magazine photo essay “The Spectacle of Racial Turbulence in Birmingham: They Fight a Fire That Won’t Go Out” of that same year. The silkscreen, which alludes to a death in the ideals of the American Dream for and the hypocrisy of American society, was originally presented as a part of his “Death in America” exhibition at the Galerie Ileana Sonnabend in Paris. Warhol creates Red Race Riot using his signature motif of repetition, transforming aspects prevalent to American mass culture into banal and mundane subjects under the scope of his work. Anne Wagner argues in her article “Warhol…show more content…
Moore’s photo essay for Life resonated with white audiences because it possessed a linear narrative that emphasized dynamism rather than producing a fixed static image typical of other photographs published at the time. These photographs have “protagonists and action and drama” (Wagner 106). American media often took to theatricality to capture the attention of white Americans. Berger also points out that civil rights campaigns such as sit-ins and marches “were designed to reap national media attention” (Berger 12). Red Race Riot appears like a visual montage sequence, replaying the same drama on an infinite loop. The photograph of the German Shepard lunging towards the viewer is duplicated in the narrative succession, marking the beginning and end of the story. According to Wagner, Warhol’s placement of three screens in strict sequence creates a “mini-morality play,” suggesting his empathy for the plight of African Americans (Wagner 110). However, one could also argue that it forces the viewer to relive that single scene until there is nothing left to be gained. Warhol preserves the narrow-minded images of what he believes the public will remember when they look back on the Civil Rights Movement. Similarly his Marilyn Diptych of 1962 uses an image that emphasizes the role of Marilyn Monroe as the glamorous Hollywood star. His silkscreen only wants the public to see her screen image, not her physical self. In the case of Red Race Riot, the desire to create a spectacle distances the viewer from the reality of the Civil Rights Movement, since only the image of the victimized black will be eternalized. The stark red background intertwined with the photographs heightens the spectacle. The image calls attention to itself, standing out in the gallery space like Moore’s photographs standing out on the pages of Life. Red Race Riot presents itself as a visual spectacle, meant to capture

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