Kill for Peace: American Artists Against the Vietnam War
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The Vietnam War (1964–1975) divided American society like no other war of the twentieth century, and some of the most memorable American art and art-related activism of the last fifty years protested U.S. involvement. At a time when Pop Art, Minimalism, and Conceptual Art dominated the American art world, individual artists and art collectives played a significant role in antiwar protest and inspired subsequent generations of artists. This significant story of engagement, which has never been covered in a book-length survey before, is the subject of Kill for Peace.
Writing for both general and academic audiences, Matthew Israel recounts the major moments in the Vietnam War and the antiwar movement and describes artists’ individual and collective responses to them. He discusses major artists such as Leon Golub, Edward Kienholz, Martha Rosler, Peter Saul, Nancy Spero, and Robert Morris; artists’ groups including the Art Workers’ Coalition (AWC) and the Artists Protest Committee (APC); and iconic works of collective protest art such as AWC’s Q. And Babies? A. And Babies and APC’s The Artists Tower of Protest. Israel also formulates a typology of antiwar engagement, identifying and naming artists’ approaches to protest. These approaches range from extra-aesthetic actions—advertisements, strikes, walk-outs, and petitions without a visual aspect—to advance memorials, which were war memorials purposefully created before the war’s end that criticized both the war and the form and content of traditional war memorials.
the war was limited. To understand why this was the case—as well as how unwelcome initial artistic contributions were in the larger art world and how disconnected American artists were from previous political art—this chapter discusses the dominance and politically disengaged character of formalism, pop, and minimalism in the American fine art system of the 1960s. Chapter 4 follows the continued escalation of the war during 1967 and considerable events of the antiwar movement from that year, such
Ellsworth Kelly–esque, “red stripe” of a painting (or a wall design). Rosler’s Roadside Ambush also incorporates Vietnam into its domestic environment. In this work, a Vietnamese mother and child curl up on the ground in the serene whitewashed living room of an American “country house.” Notably, Rosler’s series includes images that do not feature any kind of domestic interior at all, such as Makeup/Hands Up, a close-up of a woman applying eye shadow whose eye has been covered up (blinded) by a
his penis) in the format of what could be a children’s book.45 Various outfits he can don—including a soldier’s and a butcher’s uniform—surround him. For Stevens, the assumption was that all these positions in society represent forms of the Big Daddy personality. The distrust of authority present in Stevens’s works reflected the greater political and social upheaval of 1968, and specifically the belief that Vietnam had truly become a quagmire. In response, the U.S. government began 1969 by
in solidarity, directs the organization of the realm of necessity and the development of the realm of freedom.”13 Morris’s stipulation that all the materials would be acquired “on loan”—that is, cycled back into the economy of construction after the exhibit was taken down as untransformed materials, and that the economic value of the show cost no more than the value of the materials—is understood much like Andre’s work, as a “liquidation” of the commodity nature of the art object.14
antiwar movement? I can’t see how. In the 1960s, Golub for the first time stepped into the history of his own time as an artist.”11 Among his many works in a wide variety of media—from paintings to written manifestoes (which were often mislabeled as pop)—Öyvind Fahlström’s maps of the early 1970s condemned American imperialism and, for a time, America’s war in Vietnam.12 Fahlström’s maps stemmed from the beginning of the late 1960s when, he explained, “Like many people, I began to understand