Disaster in Paris
Andy Warhol’s January 1964 exhibition at Galerie Sonnabend in Paris afforded the first glimpse of his “Death in America” series— searing images of suicide victims, electric chairs, racial oppression and car crashes screened repeatedly in black ink over monochromatic fields of acrylic paint on canvas, launching a disturbing challenge to the promises of the so-called American Dream. This chapter analyzes the contradictory French reception of Warhol’s series, arguing that while critics, artists and designers saw their skepticism of American mass culture mirrored in Warhol’s work, many were also wary of the reduction of painting to the quasi-mechanical reproduction of mass media graphics. The “Death in America” paintings are among the most widely discussed and fiercely debated works in Warhol’s oeuvre, and for this reason it is surprising that their original Parisian reception has gone unexamined. The juxtaposition of Warhol and Delpire’s images explored in the chapter highlights the duality of the French reception of Pop art.