While the use of the grid is a formalized power play, as conventional a gesture as any in contemporary art, Warhol did subject his found photographs, when mapping them onto the grid, to exceptionally harsh treatment. First, Warhol's grid is not well-ruled. The pictures are haphazardly screened in messy, oftentimes overlapping, rows and columns that do not share any part of the glacial, mathematic precision common to many other gridworks. Warhol's grids, unlike those of Mondrian, LeWitt, or Martin, are themselves wrecks. As if the confusion of vertical and horizontal line is not enough, Warhol also inked the base photographs without regularly cleaning the silkscreens. Thus, the images are indiscriminately sited and erratically printed. With these desultory production values, the photographs are so degraded that it often takes a considerable degree of concentration to make out the depicted catastrophe in the abstract mess printed on the canvas. 10 In addition, plain titles like Mustard Race Riot, White Car Crash Nineteen Times, Lavender Disaster, Red Race Riot, Blue Electric Chair, Orange Car Crash Nineteen Times, manifestly establish the rule of color and proclaim the primacy of form over content. 11 Taken together these manipulations attest to the power of the artist to consume anything. As Ivan Karp proudly observes in an early paean to pop, "The worthy subject is struck down once and for all" (26).
Yet, the bodies may still matter. The violence of pop craft cannot entirely bear them away. Through the multiple mediation of lens and shutter, beyond the brief life of the throwaway daily, against the order of the grid and the awful washes of color, they continue to voice a mute appeal. The dim call of the dead is not, however, a result, as John Coplans would have it, of "finally [being] made to seem real" (52). As a leading architect in the society of the spectacle it is ludicrous to so diminish Warhol's accomplishments. In running well before the trajectory of contemporary media practice, Warhol has not returned the image to life. He has, all too effectively, provided a model demonstration of the power of the image to subsume and void all human experience. The Death and Disaster Series sentence the dead to a lasting extinction by negating the possibility of making an affective commitment to the world in and beyond the image. If the dead continue to speak, it is as fossilized tracks expressing the presence of absent beasts. For what once was -- empty space.