A Color That Is Anything but Neutral

From Puritan Industrialists to Pro-Slavery Propaganda, Black Has Accumulated Contradictory and Controversial Associations

Black may be a color, but it’s not just a color.

Panelists at a lively Zócalo/Getty “Open Art” event at the Getty Museum explored the hue’s often contradictory and controversial associations, exploding the idea that black is merely the absence of color. Among the many connotations the panelists discussed were the signals black sends out about luxury, death, sin, style, and race.

With a color that is so hard to nail down, moderator Peter Tokofsky, an education specialist at the Getty and adjunct member of the German faculty at UCLA, kicked off the afternoon by asking Katrin Trautwein, the founder of the paint manufacturer kt.COLOR, “What is black?”

Trautwein said she hadn’t thought much about producing black paints until a Dutch designer asked her to produce 24 shades of black so she could use them as backgrounds to set off white and …