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Andy Warhol (American, 1928-1987)
Birmingham Race Riot, 1964, photographic screenprint on paper.
Gift of Douglas S. Cramer in honor of Pauline Compton Cramer 2002.21

Andy Warhol, one of the most well known artists of the twentieth century, produced his most powerful work by examining the ways in which mass produced images function in the face of real human suffering and death. He has been quoted saying “if you look at a gruesome picture over and over, it doesn't mean anything anymore.” The image used in Birmingham Race Riot is a photograph taken by Charles Moore, and was originally published on May 17, 1963, in Life magazine. Taken during the riots at Birmingham, Alabama, the event was a turning point of the Civil Rights Movement. Supporters of Martin Luther King, Jr., protesting at segregated lunch counters, were attacked by the police with dogs and water hoses and King himself was arrested. Images such as this dramatized the brutality and political oppression. With which the Civil Rights protestors were met. Warhol treats this image the same way he treats Coca Cola bottles and dead celebrities. The images he borrows become logos or icons, the fine points stripped away, while the most memorable elements are emphasized. Then, like a logo, Warhol reproduces the image in mass quantities. In this way the artwork not only functions as a commemoration of an historic event, it also questions the effects of mass media and illustrates the distance between the arts and events in the streets.




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