The controversial “Open Casket” painting

Painter Dana Schutz image courtesy of Tom Powel Imaging.

The controversial “Open Casket” painting

By Patrick B. Hill @Pathill17



The Whitney Museum of American Art and artist Dana Schutz are under scrutiny for a painting called “Open Casket.”  The painting display a mutilated face of a young African American boy in an open casket. The artist acknowledge that the painting is of Emmett Till who was tortured and lynched by two white men in 1955. The story goes that Emmett Till was murder because a white woman accuse Till for whistling at her which made her uncomfortable. Her brother and husband tortured and lynched Till.  Emmett Till was so badly brutalize that his face was completely unrecognizable. A picture of Till face in an open casket can be seen on internet. The two men who did it was not charge for the death of Emmett Till. Not so long ago in late February, the white woman whom accuse Till for whistling at her admit that she lied. She falsely accuses Till of whistling at her. She is expected to drop a memoir of that event in the future.


Dana Schultz decided she wanted to do the painting of the mutilated face of Emmett Till to convey the universal horror of the murder and acknowledge the country’s lingering racism. The painting “Open Casket” draw a lot of attention at the 2017 biennial exhibition. The painting draw swift condemnation and protest from numerous artists and observers. In an interview with Artnet, Dana Schutz acknowledge that she knew the situation with her painting would be a problematic. She did the painting in response to the shootings of black men by police during the Summer of 2016. In her words, “The photograph of Emmett Till felt analogous to the time.” She continues “What was hidden was now revealed.”  (2017)

Whitney Museum will continue to display the painting at the exhibit. In their statement to back Schultz’s work:


“The 2017 Whitney Biennial brings to light many facets of the human experience, including conditions that are painful or difficult to confront such as violence, racism, and death. Many artists in the exhibition push in on these issues, seeking empathetic connections in an especially divisive time. Dana Schutz’s painting, Open Casket (2016), is an unsettling image that speaks to the long-standing violence that has been inflicted upon African Americans. For many African Americans in particular, this image has tremendous emotional resonance. By exhibiting the painting, we wanted to acknowledge the importance of this extremely consequential and solemn image in American and African American history and the history of race relations in this country. As curators of this exhibition we believe in providing a museum platform for artists to explore these critical issues.”(2017)


Dana Schutz acknowledge again that the painting’s subject matter is fraught. She said “I did not know if I could make this painting, ethically or emotionally.”  She continues, “I don’t know what it is like to be black in America. But I do know what it is like to be a mother. Emmett was Mamie Till’s only son. I thought about the possibility of painting it only after listening to interviews with her. In her sorrow and rage she want her son’s death not just to be her pain but America’s pain.”  (A white artist responds to the outcry over her controversial Emmett Till painting. 2017)


Do you agree with the artist on the stance or was she wrong? Let me know what you think  in this article.



Gibson, C. (2017). A white artist responds to the outcry over her controversial Emmett Till painting. Retrieved from


Boucher, B. (2017). Dana Schutz Responds to the Uproar Over Her Emmett Till Painting at the Whitney Biennial. Retrieved from

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