The Johnson administration publicly called 1967 a successful year in Vietnam, primarily because it said the enemy was in retreat from populated areas. Yet privately the administration knew things weren’t progressing well, and as a result those involved were engaged in a divisive debate over strategy during much of the year. The Joint Chiefs of Staff still advocated intense bombing as they had in the fall of 1964. McNamara offered a drastically different approach aimed at negotiations with the North. He called for restraint, a stabilization of bombing, limited troop increases, and a pacification drive. The Joint Chiefs called McNamara’s plan “defeatism,”1 and Johnson rejected his proposal outright. In response, in November, McNamara resigned, to the shock of the nation. Accordingly, at the end of 1967, no future war strategy had been decided and the administration raised troop strength to five hundred thousand men.
Antiwar protests increased steadily over the course of the year. The Spring Mobilization to End the War in Vietnam in New York City on April 15 was one of the largest efforts to take place. It drew anywhere from one hundred thousand (police estimate) to four hundred thousand (organizers’ estimate) people.2 On February 23, 1967, the New York Review of Books (NYRB) published Noam Chomsky’s “The Responsibility of Intellectuals,” which has since been called the single most influential piece of antiwar literature written during the Vietnam War.3 The piece offered one of the most penetrating critiques of the prominent intellectuals working on the war in the upper echelons of the Johnson administration. It was Chomsky’s claim that these men were failing in their greater responsibility and privilege as intellectuals. In one of his most recognized statements, he explained that the responsibility of intellectuals was “to speak truth . . . expose the lies of governments, [and] analyze actions according to their causes and motives and often hidden intentions. In the Western world, at least, they have the power that comes from political liberty, from access to information and freedom of expression. For a privileged minority, Western democracy provides the leisure, the facilities, and the training to seek the truth lying hidden behind the veil of distortion and misrepresentation, ideology and class interests, through which the events of current history are presented to us.”4 But for Chomsky, the Johnson intellectuals (the “New Frontiersmen” like Walt Rostow, Henry Kissinger, McGeorge Bundy, Arthur Schlesinger, and Dean Rusk) had rejected such responsibilities. Chomsky took these scholar-experts to task by demonstrating their lies; their dismissal of truth and history; their contempt for their audience; their shocking naïveté and fatuousness; and finally, their steady exertion of a will to power, joined with an assumption of the purity and infallibility of American motives. In the face of this, Chomsky urged the reader—who was assumed to be part of the liberal American public—to question the administration’s pseudo-objectivity, and to ask him- or herself, “What have I done?” in creating, mouthing, or tolerating deceptions that were used to justify defenses of American freedom and fresh atrocities in Vietnam on a daily basis.
Chomsky’s article elicited strong response, most notably from the novelist and literary critic George Steiner. In fact, Steiner’s dialogue with Chomsky resulted in the NYRB publishing an exchange of letters between the two in March. Overall, within the exchange, Steiner praised Chomsky for exposing the true nature of Johnson’s brain trust. Like many involved in the protest of the war, however, he asked Chomsky for policy. He wrote, “You rightly say that we are all responsible, you rightly hint that our future status may be no better than that of acquiescing intellectuals under Nazism, but what action do you urge or suggest?”5 Steiner asked whether Chomsky would now help his students escape to Mexico (in the same way that Frances Jeanson had helped his students escape from the country during the French war with Algeria, leading what was called the “suitcase brigades”).6 In the year following his exchange with Steiner, Chomsky advocated nonviolent resistance, such as draft counseling and assistance for those who were trying to leave the country. Yet Chomsky maintained that “intellectuals must not recklessly use their eloquence and rhetorical skills to force others—especially the young who are bound to suffer for it much more severely—to commit civil disobedience.” “Resistance must be freely undertaken,” he explained.7
The most significant antiwar effort from the arts community during 1967 was Angry Arts Week, which took place in New York City between January 26 and February 5. Angry Arts Week was the largest collective aesthetic endeavor to occur during the war, and was, in many respects, the East Coast’s version of the Peace Tower.8 Like the tower, Angry Arts Week had its origins in an artists’ call. Dore Ashton and Max Kozloff sent out this call on behalf of AWP (though the Week was eventually sponsored by NYU’s chapters of SDS and the Committee of the Professions as well as the Greenwich Village Peace Center). The call explained:
We, the ARTISTS AND WRITERS PROTEST, call upon you to participate in a Collage of Indignation, to be mounted in the cause of peace, from January 29 to February 4, 1967, at Loeb Student Center, New York University. Titled The Angry Arts, it will feature, in a context of happenings, poetry readings, films, music and theater, panoramic size canvases, upon which you the artists of New York, are asked to paint, draw, or attach whatever images or objects that will express or stand for your anger against the war . . . We are also interested in whatever manner of visual invective, political caricature, or related savage materials you would care to contribute. Join in the spirit of cooperation with other artistic communities of the city in a desperate plea for sanity.9
Eventually, roughly five hundred artists were involved in the Week. Their works were made in a wide variety of media. Performance art, music, poetry, as well as visual art (painting, sculpture, and photography) could be viewed.10
There were some memorable works exhibited during the Week. One was Carolee Schneemann’s Viet-Flakes, a film montage (dating from 1965) based on atrocity images, which Schneemann showed in conjunction with the performance piece Snows at the Kinetic Theatre (figs. 20 and 21). Since she had first heard of U.S. involvement in Vietnam as a graduate student at the University of Illinois, Schneemann, like many other artists of the period—such as Leon Golub—had been assiduously compiling atrocity images.11 She culled these images from newspapers and magazines, or from the Liberation News Service. Schneemann was motivated to construct something out of these images around 1966, when she became particularly upset about America’s growing presence in Vietnam. She also has commented that it was in 1966 that images of the war began to appear within her daily life as hallucinations. These hallucinations occurred near, and inside, her home in upstate New York. She has said she would see Vietnamese bodies hanging from trees and her kitchen stove become smoldering villages (so much so that she was afraid to use it).12
20. Carolee Schneemann, Viet-Flakes, 1965. Film still from DVD of original toned B&W 16mm film. © Carolee Schneemann.
21. Carolee Schneemann, Viet-Flakes, 1965. Film still from DVD of original toned B&W 16mm film. © Carolee Schneemann.
In Viet-Flakes, Schneemann used an 8mm movie camera to intensify the effect of her atrocity images and to “force” what she called the “putrid,” “militaristic jerk-off” of the war on her audience, many of whom she saw as being “ferociously” in denial of current events in Vietnam.13 To create the work, Schneemann laid out the collection of photographs she had compiled over five years in arcs on the floor and obsessively and quickly zoomed in and out on individual examples (often over and over) with her camera, so that the eye never rested on any one image or even brought a singular image into focus. Coupled with popular songs like Jackie DeShannon’s “What the World Needs Now Is Love,” Quest ion Mark and the Mysterians’ “96 Tears,” and the Beatles’ “We Can Work It Out”—all of which were abruptly cut off and restarted in a kind of “bricolage of structural effects in sound”—the experience of viewing Schneemann’s flashing onslaught of collected photographs is disorienting and nauseating.14
Viet-Flakes was the first of many works made during the war to use direct evidence of casualties—or in the words of Maurice Berger, “the awful human waste of [the] war”—as a means of protest. The use of direct evidence became one of the dominant strategies through which American artists exhibited their dissent.15 The general idea behind the use of such images of violence was that exposure to the viewer and the shock they would produce would help eliminate violence.16 Such presentations were nothing new for art, for they had been the stock-in-trade of antiwar works historically, dating back in Western art history to Jacques Callot’s 1633 Miseries of War. Alexander Gardner, for example, remarked of his images of the American Civil War that their presentation of “dreadful details” exposed “the blank horror and reality of war, in opposition to its pageantry.”17 Regardless of the aforementioned fact that 1960s American artists either did not know of them or neglected them due to prejudice against such work, various American social realists of the 1930s were another precedent for creating antiwar work featuring such alarming visual horrors. Paintings and prints by Philip Evergood, George Biddle, Ben Shahn, Rockwell Kent, William Gropper, Philip Guston, Edward Hagedorn, and Thomas Hart Benton, for example, protested the injustices of the Spanish Civil War and the Second World War through the depiction of suffering or dead civilians in countries sympathetic to the U.S. agenda.
During the Vietnam War, the subjects of images of direct evidence were most often Vietnamese noncombatant women and children who had been the victims of American attacks. Usually these images were directly appropriated with little alteration from the mass media’s photographic or televised coverage of the war. While the reason for their depiction may seem obvious, it is important to state that during the Vietnam War, women and children, especially South Vietnamese children, were recognized by the liberal American public to be innocents caught up in the conflict and thus victims of war.
During Angry Arts Week, Peter Schumann’s Bread and Puppet Theater also performed; the theater’s puppets and masks were often present during political protests between 1964 and 1967. Their performance featured a physician lecturing to medical students about napalm burns and the treatment of them, while in back of him a puppet representing a Vietnamese citizen extended a giant hand to the audience, asking for treatment for the napalm victims in a “fumbling gesture of the helplessness of the victims of war.” Napalm was an incendiary jelly invented during World War II and used in the Vietnam War from 1966 onward, dropped from planes in bombs to defoliate wide swaths of North Vietnamese jungles that the Vietcong used to conceal themselves. Almost immediately after its initial use, napalm was a lightning rod for the antiwar movement, and soon after, a subject of antiwar artworks when it became known that napalm was horrifically burning Vietnamese soldiers and civilians as often as the foliage for which it was intended.18After the initial discussion of napalm burn treatments, Schumann’s performance launched into a torrent of information about the war: facts about rape, images of napalm victims, scenes from a Vietnamese wedding, and tapes of bombings. At the end of the evening, because the performance went quite late, the crowd and the cast traveled up to Lincoln Center dressed in a kind of theatrical Vietnamese garb—which included hats with words written on them like “Peace” and “Vietnam”—and descended on affluent theatergoers on their way home from performances.19
A mobile part of the Week was the “Caravan of the Angry Arts,” a flatbed truck performance space that carried an ongoing rotation of poets and actors, singers, artists, and films to fifteen locations in Manhattan, from Greenwich Village to Harlem. The truck was originally decorated with a sign designed by Alan D’Arcangelo depicting Lyndon Johnson as a dragon and Lady Bird Johnson riding him. D’Arcangelo’s work was accidentally destroyed, however, and replaced by enlargements of the same photographs of napalm victims published in Ramparts that had profoundly affected Martin Luther King. The Caravan also distributed twelve thousand leaflets to the public, which were designed by Rudolf Baranik (fig. 22). On the outside was an image of a napalmed child and the caption “For this you’ve been born?”—which was the title of an image in Goya’s Disasters of War—and inside were poems.20 The Caravan drew large crowds and made it all the way to 124th Street and Lenox Avenue, at which point the police stopped the participants, telling them they could not continue unless they had an American flag as part of their Caravan.
Other notable contributions to Angry Arts Week were Werner Bischoff’s installation of photographs titled Life in Vietnam; a “war toy” exhibit; a conductor-less concert at Town Hall—“to symbolize the individual’s responsibility for the brutality in Vietnam”—and a “Contemplation Room,” which featured more than two hundred color slides of everyday life in Vietnam combined with WBAI radio reports on the war by Dale Minor. (WBAI was a significant force in 1960s and 1970s New York counterculture.)21 Yet as one can glean from the original call for participation, the Collage of Indignation was Angry Arts Week’s central focus (fig. 23). Completed in just a few days before the Week’s opening, in its finished form the Collage was a massive 10 × 120 ft. installation of wall-like panels (each 10 × 6 ft.) that featured paintings, drawings, and prints, all of which functioned like a scrapbook of protest. Though its various contributors represented a number of artistic schools of the period, the Collage’s components were most often angry tirades of words stylistically derived from graffiti, political posters, and cartoons, akin to those works made by the Peace Tower’s “artist–citizens.” Examples of note were Jack Sonnenberg writing into one of his abstractions; Mark di Suvero burning words into a rusty piece of metal; Petlin’s “unflattering image of LBJ” captioned with “Johnson is a murderer—In Memory of Women and Children Killed by Bombs in Vietnam”; May Stevens’s scrawled “Morrison Shall Never Die” (referring to Norman Morrison, who immolated himself in 1965 to protest the war); and Nancy Graves and the activist group Black Mask writing “HUMP WAR” and “REVOLUTION,” respectively.22 Other artists, like Jacob Lawrence, just wrote their names. Fraser Dougherty submitted his draft card.23
22. Rudolf Baranik, Angry Arts, 1967. International Center of Photography, gift of the Artists’ Poster Committee with funds provided by the ICP Acquisitions Committee, 2002 (881.2002). Courtesy ICP and the Estate of Rudolf Baranik.
23. Photograph of a portion of Angry Arts Week in New York’s Collage of Indignation, 1967. © E. Tulchin.
While at NYU, the Collage attracted roughly ten thousand people.24 Many of the organizers, like Baranik, saw the Collage as a landmark effort, the noble public rebirth of political activism in New York, dormant since the 1930s, and a visual success. Regardless, the Collage did not impress the media. As with the People’s Flag Show three years later, it was criticized principally for its prioritization of instinctive, angry scrawl and for its low level of creativity. In the New Yorker, Harold Rosenberg said the Collage looked as if it had been made according to “craft standards.”25 In The Nation, Kozloff penned one of the most peculiar critical reviews—peculiar since he was one of the Collage organizers and also contributed to the show (with a splatter of red paint). Kozloff called theCollagea “wailing wall, alienated and homeless in style, embattled in content,” and argued that instead of arousing protest, in its identity as individualistic, emotional relief, the work was most effective only in creating distaste for the work of the artists who participated.26After being shown at NYU, the collage was installed at Columbia University. After that it was burned instead of stored. This decision was made by central organizers to ensure that the work was never sold or institutionalized. In their mind, it was designed to be a specific intervention that was not intended to last or be co-opted by the forces it was protesting, such as museums and the government.
Though not considered art at the time, at least by New York art world standards, Abbie Hoffman’s October 21, 1967, Exorcism of the Pentagon should be considered one of the significant collective aesthetic antiwar protests of the period, especially if one understands its origin in the form of Happenings and also compares it to similar Dada performances or the contemporary works of Joseph Beuys (such as his famously ironic suggestion to the West German authorities that they raise the Berlin Wall five centimeters to give it better proportions).27 Hoffman’s Exorcism was truly an attempted exorcism of the Pentagon. Twelve hundred people (in Hoffman’s words, “sorcerers, swamis, priests, warlocks, rabbis, gurus, witches, alchemists, speed freaks and other holy men”) invoked gods, sang, and chanted, most often “Out Demons Out,” in the massive parking lot of the home of the U.S. Department of Defense.28 According to Hoffman, the power of such an action would raise the Pentagon three hundred feet, turn it orange, and make it vibrate until (as Norman Mailer explained in his Armies of the Night) “all evil emissions had fled. . . . At that point the war in Vietnam would end.”29
Unfortunately, the Pentagon did not rise. Nonetheless, Hoffman’s attempt added—at least for some—a welcome carnival atmosphere to a quite sober, much larger protest of seventy thousand people of which his exorcism was considered a part. This protest, the Spring Mobilization to End the War in Vietnam, had been organized by the Mobilization Committee to End the War in Vietnam, a loose coalition of 150 different groups. After a series of speeches on the National Mall, the protest aimed to shut down regular Pentagon operations by blocking access to the building and surrounding it with antiwar demonstrators. Protests that day (along with events in Chicago the next year) signaled for many in the antiwar movement a significant change, from mostly passive protests against the war to a focus on civil disobedience and active resistance.30
While Angry Arts Week was the major accomplishment of antiwar protest during 1967, nonaesthetic endeavors continued, as did the creation of individual works. Angry Arts, for example, authored a petition asking Picasso to remove Guernica from MoMA as a means of protesting the continued U.S. pursuance of the war. Organized by Golub, Petlin, Kozloff, Michaelson, William Copley, and Walter de Maria, the petition read as follows: “We the undersigned American Artists urge you to withdraw your paintingGuernicafrom the Museum of Modern Art in New York, as an act of protest against the United States bombing in Viet Nam. Thousands of Vietnamese villagers are undergoing the same kind of bombing that the citizens of Guernica suffered. Please let the spirit of your painting be reasserted and its message once again felt, by withdrawing your painting from the United States for the duration of the war.”31 The petition was circulated “quietly, out of respect for Picasso,” according to Petlin; signed, Petlin said, by basically “every single artist in New York”; and then brought to Europe by him, where it was given to the surrealist writer Michel Leiris, a friend of Picasso’s, to pass along to him.32 Yet various people attempted to stop the petition from reaching Picasso. In New York, for example, Alfred H. Barr Jr., the recently retired founding director of the Museum of Modern Art, was alerted to the petition’s existence and wrote to Picasso expressing his opposition. According to Petlin, when the petition reached Europe it was also “sabotaged [there] by all of Picasso’s closest associates. They didn’t want him to do [it] because [they believed] it would ruin the American market for his paintings.” As a result, it is conceivable that Picasso never saw the petition, and in fact he never responded.33
Critiquing the attitude of Americans on the home front, and especially their complacency and apathy regarding the Vietnam War, was another discernible strategy of antiwar art. The greatest demonstration of this was Martha Rosler’s series of collages Bringing the War Home: House Beautiful, which she began in 1967 and continued to work on until approximately 1972 (figs. 24–26). Rosler’s works reacted to what she has called the dangerous, dualistic separation between “the here and the elsewhere,” by trying (in some, but importantly, not all, collages of the series) to bring the war home to the American public.34 Before progressing further, it should be noted that Rosler made these works as agitprop, and as a result she did not think of them as having formal titles or constituting a proper series. She has said that she only would loosely refer to them as having certain titles and that the art world’s interest in them has progressively insisted on them having titles and dates—though she says the dates are somewhat imaginary since she refused to sign or date the works.
“Bring the war home” was a popular slogan in the antiwar movement, though it had acquired a double entendre by the late 1960s. While on one hand it suggested that the United States downscale the war, more than this it insinuated that because of the mismanagement of a war that lacked a clear reason for being, a war of protest must be waged at home to stop it. Specific events of 1965–1966 catalyzed Rosler’s antiwar engagement and production of her series. She remembers lying in bed and registering shock when Westmoreland asked for an escalation of half a million men.35 She also has a vivid memory of sitting in her mother’s house one day reading the newspaper and seeing a (now iconic) picture of an agonized-looking Vietnamese woman swimming in a river with her baby. She remembers thinking to herself, “We’re doing this to people. To peasants. We’re bombing them! This is insane. I can’t stand it!” She commented later that “that image made me want to make images . . . [and it has] stuck in my brain . . . even forty-odd years later.”36
24. Martha Rosler, Roadside Ambush, from the series Bringing the War Home: House Beautiful, 1967–1972. Photomontage. © Mart ha Rosler.
Primarily inspired by Jess and Max Ernst, and looking back to the more political work of Hannah Hoch and John Heartfield (though Hoch and Heartfield were virtually unknown to Rosler when she began working on the series), Rosler’s collages brought the war home pictorially through the insertion of often-familiar, dark, and dirty war photographs of combat zones in the Mekong Delta and Khe Sanh, into plush and pristine American domestic scenes. Many of the domestic scenes were clipped from 1950s and 1960s magazines like Life and Architectural Digest and from architectural prints that Rosler picked up at used bookstores on Fourth Avenue in New York. Rosler chose 1950s images of homes, and more often, of women, shown in advertising because, she recently stated, she saw them as “deeply formative for the postwar US mythos of home, family, and domesticity as a ‘haven in a heartless world.’”37
25. Martha Rosler, Makeup/Hands Up, from the series Bringing the War Home: House Beautiful, 1967–1972. Photomontage. © Martha Rosler.
26. Martha Rosler, Red Stripe Kitchen, from the series Bringing the War Home: House Beautiful, 1967–1972. Photomontage. © Martha Rosler.
Contrary to Homi K. Bhabha’s belief that Rosler’s collages clearly define an “inside and an outside,” or the domestic environment versus the war front (separated by curtains and plate glass windows), Rosler’s collages do not always maintain a dualistic division.38 In actuality, the war images are inserted within and without the domestic environment. As such, Rosler does not only bring the war home so that it can be seen as only outside the home’s boundaries but brings it into the home as well.39 This can best be observed in Red Stripe Kitchen, the most well-known work in the series (arguably because a C-print of it is owned by both the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum). The work features two soldiers who seem like they are looking for something (but who are probably planting mortars) in a streamlined, white kitchen, dotted with red bowls and a red sink, and framed in the rear by an Ells worth Kelly–esque, “red stripe” of a painting (or a wall design). Rosler’s Roadside Ambushalso 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 square black-and-white photograph. The photograph features a blindfolded woman prisoner held at gunpoint by a shirtless black American soldier.
While C-prints of Rosler’s collages are now framed behind glass at the Met and the Guggenheim among other institutions—suggesting they are limited in number—and the collages themselves were unique, Rosler created the collages to be reproduced and disseminated as widely as possible. At the time she made them, she regularly photocopied the collages in black and white and distributed them at antiwar protests in New York and San Diego. The collages also found their way into underground newspapers, reprinted as illustrations for antiwar articles, or published independently as works of art. One newspaper that reproduced Rosler’s work was the feminist journal published in San Diego, Goodbye to All That!40 Underground press outlets were rising sharply in prominence at this time, in response to Americans’ mounting frustration with mainstream news outlets and the increasing possibility of alternative media. Readership of these outlets, according to contemporary reports by the Wall Street Journal and Newsweek, increased the most between 1968 and 1969.41 At the time, in the United States, the label “underground press” referred to at least five hundred underground newspapers, and another five hundred to one thousand dissident high school papers. Three of the earliest and eventually most prominent underground newspapers were New York City’s East Village Other, the Berkeley Barb out of California and the Los Angeles Free Press, which included early coverage of APC’s actions. There were also close to three hundred GI newspapers available to soldiers, many of them put out by active-duty troops on military bases and warships around the globe. The popularity of the medium led to American military veterans’ creation of the GI Press Service, serving as the AP of the GI movement.42 The underground press’s coverage of the Tet Offensive in 1968 was its defining moment. The coverage entirely contradicted the narrative proposed by the mass media and was mostly ignored at first. Yet when it was discovered that the “underground” version of the conflict was correct, the mainstream media adopted this perspective and even attempted in its future reporting to use the methods and character of the underground press, namely, the challenging, investigative reporting.43
Another artist who made collages during the war, many strikingly similar to those of Rosler’s, was Violet Ray, the pseudonym of a virtually unknown male artist who lived in New York (figs. 27 and 28).44 Ray’s collages differed from Rosler’s, however, in that they focused more on juxtaposing images from the war front with those from American advertising. One example was his Spell of Chanel, which features the actress Ali McGraw posing nude in a bath with her back turned (in an ad for Chanel). Inserted into the image—so that the water from one subtly mixes with that of the other—is a picture of a Vietnamese woman with a baby and two older children struggling to wade through the river (they were doing so to avoid American bombs).45
More so than in Rosler’s works, Ray’s jarringly combine the sheer luxury of Western life (or the luxuries many Westerners at that time aspired to have) and the sheer horror and anxiety of the Vietnamese people. Another work from Ray’s series is Revlon Oh-Baby Face, which conflates a Revlon ad featuring a young baby-faced model (and copy that reads “Revlon adopts the oh-baby face”) with a Vietnamese girl whose face has been injured in the war. Her left eye is covered with a large gauze pad and there is a dark scar under her right eye. She also holds her hand behind her back and stares blankly to the edge of the image, enforcing her difference from the Revlon lady.
While their works have quite a lot in common, there are some incisive distinctions one can make between Ray and Rosler. Ray’s works are much closer to the advertisements themselves, and much more confrontational. Ray’s collages are also unmistakably more graphic than Rosler’s. While these qualities might make Ray’s collages less nuanced and less applicable for an art audience, Ray’s slickness, proximity to the strategies of advertisements, and graphic punch allow the work to affect a viewer who might be impatient with Rosler’s more Brechtian approach.
27. Violet Ray, Revlon Oh-Baby Face, 1967. Ad collage. 13-1/2 × 10-1/4 in. Courtesy Violet Ray.
28. Violet Ray, The Spell of Chanel, 1967. Ad collage. 13-1/8 × 10-1/4 in. Courtesy Violet Ray.
Ray’s collages, like Rosler’s, were distributed at antiwar marches and rallies. According to Ray, he handed out thousands of three of his collages (Chanel, Revlon, and Fresh Spray Deodorant) during the Spring Mobilization march in New York City. Ray’s collages also appeared in the French antiwar film Far from Vietnam (an indictment of the American war effort by six film directors, including Jean-Luc Godard and Alain Resnais), as well as in slideshows and newspapers, such as the Aspen Times. The Times ran Ray’s collages for twenty straight weeks between July 9 and November 16, 1967, on its editorial page under the heading “Great Advertising Art.” Three Ray collages (Chanel, Fresh Spray Deodorant, and Chiquita Banana) also figured prominently in theRatunderground newspaper.
Like many others in the 1960s, Ray eventually became disillusioned with the state of movement politics. An undated pamphlet he anonymously copublished from the era titled The Anti-Mass was critical of mass organizing and outlined ideas for the formation of collectives dedicated to local issues. But a section of the pamphlet (inspired by Situationist and feminist theory), titled “The Need for New Formats,” promoted the use of advertising techniques, which Ray had used in his work. It called advertising a “revolutionary mode of production,” whose rejection stagnated many radical political messages and kept ignorant those who romanticize political culture and the print medium.46
The depiction or suggestion of rape in American artists’ paintings and performance works was one of their most provocative antiwar strategies. Even though the Geneva Convention prohibited rape and the mutilation of women’s bodies in wartime, as disillusionment set in among soldiers during the Vietnam War and as in almost all historical wars, rape was often considered standard operating procedure.47 Reports began surfacing about American soldiers raping civilians in Vietnam around August 1966, when the New York Times reported the conviction of five GIs for the rape of a pregnant mother of six. The following month the paper carried the story of a soldier who raped a thirteen-year-old prisoner of war. By the end of 1967, a soldier explained that rape was “an everyday affair. . . . You can nail just about everybody on that—at least once.” Another soldier reported that during 1967, he was not by any means an anomaly for witnessing at least ten to fifteen rapes.48 American soldiers were rarely punished for rape. Of the eighty-six who were actually tried between 1965 and 1973, only fifty of them (58 percent) were convicted, and sentences were relatively light.49 The prevalence of rape in Vietnam was blamed on the U.S. military’s acceptance of it as an inevitable consequence of wartime activity.50 Soldiers needed sex, the rationale went; they needed to kill or harm the enemy, and they were bored. Not to be dismissed was an American home front that—especially after 1966—discussed and produced images of violent rape and sexual deviancy on a massive scale.51
In addition to bearing witness to American soldiers’ raping of Vietnamese women, the image of rape could symbolize the ruin of the country of Vietnam by the often-inhuman (or all-too-human) American military. Both meanings can be seen in Peter Saul’s “errant breed of Pop” paintings concerning the war, such as his 1967 Saigon (fig. 29).52 Saigon employed satire and hyperbole in depicting—as the painting explains on its surface—“WHITE BOYS TORTURING AND RAPING THE PEOPLES OF SAIGON.”53 As part of this text, however, we are forewarned that we are viewing the “HIGH CLASS VERSION.” This suggests that the real situation in Vietnam was—or that Saul himself may be capable of—much worse.54
29. Peter Saul, Saigon, 1967. Enamel, oil, and synthetic polymer on canvas. 92-3/4 × 142 in. (235.6 × 360.7 cm). Whitney Museum of American Art; purchased with funds from the Friends of the Whitney Museum of American Art 69.103. Photograph by Sheldon C. Collins.
In Saigon, Saul’s distorted, cartoony “white boys”—identified through their helmets, green berets, titles, stars and stripes, or what they imbibe (soft drinks in bottles)—perform their sexual misdeeds with satirically gymnastic diversity.55 In a Day-Glo or Technicolor Pacific Eden, which the art historian and critic Alfred Frankenstein wrote was as “uncomfortable in its contrasts as the point of a bayonet,” the central rape is of the Playboy-fantasy “Innocent Virgin” (this name is written across her voluminous chest) by what appears to be an elongated, Q-tip-like gun.56 Another large blue admiral or policeman—headless except for a large tongue—also rapes her and binds her hands. (He uses his hand both for the sexual act and to bind her.) The Innocent Virgin’s bound pose is reminiscent of a crucifixion scene. A further soldier at the top of the image acts out some horrific entertainment for his fellow soldiers. He has been impaled on a tree and he bears the label “K.P.,” which stood for kitchen patrol, a duty usually assigned as punishment to soldiers. Moreover, the tree to which the soldier is bound is used to sodomize the Innocent Virgin’s father (his name is written on his chest, too). While being sodomized, he still manages to serve another soldier a bottle of Coca-Cola.
Saul’s troops sexually assault with their eyes and mouths as well. One of them, toward the bottom of the painting, extends a tongue—which could be a penis or the heavy flow of ejaculate—to lick the behind of the blue admiral, and a baby’s eyes at the center of the picture bulge heavily out from their sockets and seemingly stick to the Innocent Virgin’s chest.57 Further, Saul’s soldiers not only abuse others but also are physically abused themselves. They look diseased: their faces are pasty and covered with multicolored lesions. Whether they acquired such diseases from sex, their own psychological dysfunction, or from the greater sickness of the war, however, is left ambiguous.
Though the graphic rape representations in Saigon distract from the formal composition of the work, it was a significant aspect of the painting for Saul and it was rooted in art history. Saul has cited the work of Thomas Hart Benton, Salvador Dali, José Clemente Orozco, and Jacques-Louis David as influences. Yet the principal art-historical reference point for Saigon was Guernica, which Saul had known since he was a child (and which he used as a departure point for two other paintings, Saul’s “Guernica” and Liddul “Guernica,” both from 1973).58 As David McCarthy has observed, Saigon echoes, alludes to, and transforms certain aspects of Guernica. There is a tripartite organization in both paintings. Picasso’s use of grisaille to “evoke newspaper reports and political cartoons” is similar to Saul’s use of the “lurid coloring of cartoons and comics and the Technicolor of Hollywood” because it evoked the 1960s mass cultural equivalents of the newspaper: television and movies.59 Guernica, according to McCarthy, also gave Saul license for the illustration of “gruesome antiwar sentiment.” The Innocent Virgin with her mouth open at the center of the image recalls the screaming horse in Guernica (which signified the people of Guernica and of Spain, according to Picasso).60 Further, Saul’s blue figure is akin to Picasso’s bull, symbolizing the “forces of brutality and darkness” or “unrestrained, instinctual desire.”
Despite all these references, however, McCarthy insists that the paintings’ larger strategies are different. Guernica, he maintains, was meant to “elicit mourning and anger,” while Saigon “use[d] shock to counter complacency.”61 Like Spero and Bernstein, Saul also used his paintings to shed light on a very dark side of the American (and human) psyche, “the frenzy of sadistic pleasure linking sexual aggression and murder.” The contrast, in 1967, between the various schema within Saigon and Saul’s surroundings in San Francisco—he lived in Mill Valley, north of the city—was severe. While Saul had counterparts in the Bay Area work of underground comix, such as R. Crumb (whose work Saul greatly admired), he was definitely in the minority as a painter. McCarthy explains, “To [create Saigon] . . . during the so-called Summer of Love, playing out just a few miles south of his studio, was to dismiss an entire ethos, perhaps best captured in the slogan ‘Make Love, Not War,’ as a woefully inadequate means of protest.”62
In the years of the war following his completion of Saigon, Saul created works that similarly foregrounded rape and murder. Take, for example, his Typical Saigon of 1968 (fig. 30). At the center of the painting, a jelly-bean-eyed blue monster–soldier (who has only half a body) orally fondles a Vietnamese woman as she is raped. He bites her breast and licks her leg as what looks like a laser-beam bazooka penetrates and bloodies her. The same scene is visually echoed at the left-hand side of the image, where what can best be described as a baby–soldier, whose body is a swollen bubblegum pink, penetrates—with a kind of laser beam—a purposefully stereotypical “Asian” woman.
Discussions of Saul’s Vietnam engagement frequently overlook works included in his 1966 exhibition of Vietnam Drawings at the Allan Frumkin Gallery. These drawings are significant because they foreshadowed themes Saul would later take up more substantially in Saigon and Typical Saigon. Rich Guy of 1966, for example, refers to the issue of rape in a speech bubble, explaining, “BUTTON YOUR PANTS WHITE GUYS YELLOW GAL IS SMART.”63 In contrast to Saul’s later works, however, Rich Guy presents a less-victimized image of Vietnam. While Vietnam is personified the same way she would in later years, as a buck-toothed, large-breasted “yellow” woman wearing a patched-up cocktail dress, she determinedly fights U.S. planes in the name of “poor people” (which
is literally written into the painting).64 Lest we are unsure, this lady Vietnam is a communist: a hammer adorns one breast and a sickle the other. Saul presents a less-victimized image of Vietnam because less was known about the conflict, especially all the horrific particulars that would populate Saul’s later Vietnam paintings.
30. Peter Saul, Typical Saigon, 1968. Acrylic, oil, and enamel on canvas. 93 × 144 in. Krannert Art Museum and Kinkead Pavilion, University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign. © Peter Saul.
Compared with the majority of artists creating antiwar work, Saul’s paintings had great potential to affect people’s perspectives on the war because they were nationally exhibited. Between 1967 and 1970, Saigon was shown at the San Francisco Art Institute, Reed College, and in the exhibitions Violence in American Art at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago and Human Concern/Personal Torment: The Grotesque in American Art, which was organized by Robert Doty at the Whitney Museum of American Art (and which traveled to the University Art Museum at the University of California, Berkeley). Also, during and after the May 1970 “New York Art Strike Against Racism, War, and Repression,” Saigon was hung in the Whitney’s ground-floor lobby alongside an antiwar petition signed by the staff.
On the whole, art professionals and institutions sympathetic to the antiwar movement accepted Saul’s works as antiwar.65 In interviews, Saul also said that he was not “putting people on,” that he categorized his works as “social protest,” and that he viewedSaigonas a “serious charge against the American soldiers actually present in Vietnam.” In a Whitney questionnaire about his work (which was sent to him after the museum bought his painting), Saul even wrote that if the museum had not bought the painting from him, he would have “sent it as a gift to the North Vietnamese Govt.”66
Nevertheless, Saul was—and should be considered—a more complicated artist in relation to the antiwar movement. He has always left open the issue of whether he condoned his depictions of sexual perversity and whether his racist depictions of Asians were supposed to represent the point of view of himself or American soldiers (and a portion of the American populace). This silence and its resultant provocation was motivated in part by Saul’s affinity for against-the-grain ideas, which focused on and pronounced art-making that both the “liberal” and the “avant-garde” art audience didn’t want to see. In a recent interview, Saul said that his attitude was (and has been) rooted in his reaction to his consistent dismissal and lack of acceptance by the American avant-garde art world. Accordingly, Saul has said, “Then [and now] there was a tremendous need to not be seen as a racist, not seen as a sexist. So I wanted to make sure I [was] seen as those things.”67 He also intentionally made the text included in the painting sound “completely arrogant and completely the opposite of [the language of] Artforum,” a magazine he despised for its formalist agenda and the power it held over his critical reception.68
In 1967, besides Peter Schumann’s Bread and Puppet Theater, other artists began creating works that focused on the subject of napalm to foreground the inhumanity of the American war effort. These works most often featured napalm victims, characteristically women and children, depicted through either photographic or photographically rooted direct evidence. Of the various posters featuring photographs of napalm victims, one of the most influential was Jeff Schlanger’s Would You Burn A Child? (fig. 31). Schlanger’s poster includes the title text accompanied by two images, one on top of the other. The top image, above the question “Would you burn a child?” features a man’s extended (dress-suit-adorned) arm holding a lit Zippo lighter under a child’s hand. (Zippo lighters had been standard military issue since World War II.) The bottom image—below the words “When necessary”—shows a Vietnamese woman sitting on the ground holding a baby who has been badly burned. Schlanger’s poster gained wide recognition. Grace Paley’s short story “Faith in a Tree,” published in the New American Review in 1967 (and later in Paley’s important 1974 collection of short stories, Enormous Changes at the Last Minute) includes a discussion of a poster almost identical to it. The story recounts how Faith (Paley’s alter ego) turned to political activism after seeing what was probably a version of Schlanger’s work in an antiwar protest in New York’s Washington Square Park. Paley writes:
A short parade appeared—four or five grownups . . . pushing little go-carts with babies in them, a couple of three-year-olds hanging on. . . . The grownups carried three posters. The first showed a prime-living, prime-earning, well-dressed man about thirty-five years old next to a small girl. A question was asked: would you burn a child? In the next poster he placed a burning cigarette on the child’s arm. The cool answer was given: WHEN NECESSARY. The third poster carried no words, only a napalmed Vietnamese baby, seared, scarred, with twisted hands.
We were very quiet. Kitty put her head down into the dark skirt of her lap. I trembled. I said, Oh!
As Joyce Carol Oates has explained, in Paley’s story the poster injects the “ugly, stirring, in personal terms cataclysmic,” realities of the war into “Faith’s droll, child-centered world of small neighborhood adventures. . . . [This was the] ‘before’ and ‘after’ in Faith’s life, as in Paley’s short fiction.”69
Napalm was the title of a series of paintings Leon Golub created in 1969 (figs. 32–34). In addition to Golub’s central involvement in nonaesthetic antiwar activities, his paintings became some of the most important statements of postwar American politically engaged art. Golub began painting in the late 1940s and early 1950s in a style that stood in contrast to abstract expressionism, the dominant movement in American art at the time, for he believed it was bad for art and artists. For him, the movement’s abstract, formalist conception of meaning dismissed the world, history, and humanity itself. Instead, Golub aligned himself with figurative painters of the European avant-garde, especially Jean Dubuffet and his art brut–inspired canvases. Like Dubuffet, Golub sought to paint figurative pictures about the world’s horrors directly and bluntly. He also started laboriously scraping down the surfaces of his paintings using a meat cleaver, a technique that eroded and scarred the figures and scenes he presented and helped intensify his scenes of violence.70 This recalled the precedent provided by Christian imagery of saints and martyrs whose breasts were cut off and skin was peeled in paintings of great formal and expressive beauty. Golub’s allegiance to the world and its darker forces (like his European counterparts) also stemmed from an engagement with existentialist thought.71
31. Jeff Schlanger and Artists’ Poster Committee, Would You Burn A Child? circa 1968. Offset lithography poster. 54 × 21.6 cm (21-1/4 × 8-1/2 in.). Courtesy of the Center for the Study of Political Graphics.
32. Leon Golub, Napalm I, 1969. Acrylic on linen. 116 × 198 in. Photo: Hermann Feldhaus. Art © Estate of Leon Golub/Licensed by VAGA, New York. Courtesy Ronald Feldman Fine Arts, New York.
33. Leon Golub, Napalm II, 1969. Acrylic on linen. 114 × 168 in. Art © Estate of Leon Golub/Licensed by VAGA, New York. Courtesy Ronald Feldman Fine Arts, New York.
34. Leon Golub, Napalm III, 1969. Acrylic on linen. 111 × 156 in. Art © Estate of Leon Golub/Licensed by VAGA, New York. Courtesy Ronald Feldman Fine Arts, New York.
Golub’s place in the 1950s American art world was initially promising. By 1954, he had gained significant attention for his work. He represented an influential style. He was part of Alan Frumkin’s “Monster Roster” in Chicago. (Other artists in the “roster” were George Cohen and Cosmo Campoli.)72 At one point Golub was even discussed as an American Dubuffet. Yet by the late 1950s, as formalism’s dominance solidified in the United States, Golub began to fall out of favor. MoMA’s 1959 New Images of Man, curated by Peter Selz, initiated Golub’s descent. The exhibition, which included five works by Golub and works by other figurative artists, such as Francis Bacon, Richard Diebenkorn, Dubuffet, Alberto Giacometti, and Willem de Kooning, tried to define the next big movement in the United States following abstract expressionism. However, the exhibition was widely derided by an American art public wedded to abstraction’s centrality. Future MoMA curator William Rubin wrote the most scathing review of the show in Art International, one of the leading art magazines of the period. Rubin’s review condemned Golub’s work in particular: “The works on view constitute as disparate and uninteresting a group as has ever been assembled for a major museum show. . . . [Golub] seems to interest a few people whose opinion I greatly respect, and it may be that I’m blind to Mr. Golub’s virtues, [yet] I must say that I’ve seen very little outside the school studios that is so inflated, archaizing, phonily ‘expressive,’ badly painted, and generally ‘pompier.’ The only thing big about the result is its windiness.”73 As a result of Rubin’s review and the greater unfriendliness in New York to figurative painting, Golub’s career hopes plunged. During the 1960s he had no sales and felt marginalized, isolated, and irrelevant. He explained, “[The situation became] worse than being attacked [by Bill Rubin]. [I was known but] there was little interest among critics and viewing the work. The work I was doing had no connection to the current crucial issues in art. In this kind of situation, a painter like myself did not count.”74
In the early 1960s Golub left the United States with Spero to live in Paris. When he returned he immediately became actively involved with AWP and the antiwar movement, and began to create large-scale scenes of violence based on ancient imagery (Assyrian, Hittite, Aztec, Etruscan, and Roman), including a major series of works called the Gigantomachies, which were symbolic battle scenes based on the Hellenistic Altar of Zeus from Pergamon, specifically a frieze depicting battling gods and giants.
In 1969, Golub shifted gears again and began his Napalm series, which for the first time tied his interest in scenes of violence with the war he was actively protesting. This decision was a deliberate one for Golub. He felt he could no longer be politically active against the war and paint scenes that condemned violence but which focused only on historical subjects. He commented in an interview with David Levi-Strauss that, at the time, while he could not fault a “totally abstract artist who was against the war for separating his practice from his activism” (since he believed there wasn’t room in entirely abstract art for political engagement), he could fault himself because he was “making figurative images dealing with violence and tension and stress, and there was violence and tension and stress right in front of [my] eyes and the two didn’t connect.”75
Like Schneemann’s Viet-Flakes, Golub built his Napalm paintings on photographs he collected from books, papers, and magazines.76 He would continue this practice until the end of his life, amassing a vast archive of photographic sources for his works. Golub did not have any qualms about this practice, for he believed photography was an unavoidable aspect of modern seeing. He explained, “Photographic imagery is everywhere. [The images I use] we don’t have to take . . . in: They permeate. They enter our perceptual systems in such a way that they form—the way I think of it—a kind of residue. We store these images in that computer in our head. Even when we are looking at somebody or something we know, an actual person or an object of some kind, we see them through a filter of photographic information. What we feel, okay? Desire? This photographic stuff to a large measure determines it.”77 As opposed to Schneemann’s works, though, the resulting images in Golub’s paintings were never rooted in just one image. What’s more, while the source photographs were primarily images of napalm victims, Golub used photographs unrelated to the war, such as those from sports magazines, to produce the figures he desired.
During the creation of the Napalm series, Golub also moved for the first time toward exhibiting his paintings as unstretched canvases attached to the wall with grommets, which made the work reminiscent of war or trophy banners. Further, he began to cut away sections of his canvases, which had grown to monumental proportions during the mid-1960s, leaving wide-open spaces that enforced the viciousness of his imagery and suggested “blown-apart documents,” censorship by the powers that be, or the fact that the artist removed parts of the image he believed were unfit for public consumption.78 Doing this in a monumental canvas, which placed the work in the realm of history (and thus a quite public form of painting), increased the significance of the deletions.
Though this has never been discussed—probably because the three works have rarely been grouped together—Golub’s three numbered Napalm paintings appear to depict a narrative of a napalm attack on two men. Napalm I is the moment of attack. A lone standing figure protests a shower of the flammable jelly, while another figure lies on the ground—already hit—with a large red hole burning in the center of his chest. Napalm II is the men’s attempt to recover. The upright man now runs, and the man on the ground—although covered with red burns on his shoulder, back, and knee—tries to raise himself up. Napalm III testifies to napalm’s final triumph over the men. Red pigment has now expanded over the surface of the image to cover both of their bodies, concentrating mostly on the torso and legs of the figure lying down. While all of Golub’s Napalm series were paintings, he also created napalm images that were used in mass-produced posters and flyers. His contribution to the Collage of Indignation used photostat versions of figures similar to those in his Napalm paintings, in conjunction with the text “burnt man” printed across the bottom, to suggest a napalm victim.79
Because of their scarred surfaces and missing eyes and limbs, the sculptor Michele Oka Doner’s Death Masks and Tattooed Dolls (produced between 1967 and 1968) were also seen during the war as napalm images (figs. 35 and 36). Specifically they were understood as direct depictions—or at least as inspired by depictions—of napalmed children. Because of this, the antiwar movement at the University of Michigan (where Oka Doner was an undergraduate student) appropriated Death Masks for its purposes. The work was reproduced in the student literary magazine Generations and served as a rallying point for student dissent. In this way, Oka Doner recently commented that they became poster children for the deformities caused by napalm.80 Rarely mentioned is the fact that Oka Doner did not originally intend for this work to be associated with the war. While she accepted the napalm interpretation, in making the work she said she was not thinking of the war but was instead engaging with African ceremonial tattooing and decorative scarring. Oka Doner was exposed to this tradition by an exhibition of Igbo sculpture held in 1965–1966 at Michigan and curated by Frank Starkweather, a close friend of hers.81
Rudolf Baranik, like Golub, was involved in both nonaesthetic antiwar protest and making paintings that engaged with the war. Baranik’s most significant paintings of the Vietnam War period were his Napalm Elegies, which he worked on between 1967 and 1974 (fig. 37). Baranik saw napalm as the primary “outcry-symbol, a signifier of the anguish [Americans] felt about the war.”82 The centerpiece of almost all the paintings in the series was an image of a badly burned child victim of napalm.83 Isolated in various arrangements of gray and white on a black field, duplicated at times, and depicted in a range of intensities from the impressionistic to the nearly photographic (which testified to the source of the image from an actual news photograph, which Baranik used for posters), the burned boy functions like a recurring nightmare. The constant image of the burned boy recalls Schneemann’s pulsing Viet-Flakes. In the same vein, Antonio Frasconi’s 1967 Viet Nam! book of woodcuts (fig. 38) used red, black, and white repetitions of a U.S. bombing mission and close-up views of the wailing faces of women and children to generate a sort of flip-book of Vietnam-era horror and misery.
35. Michele Oka Doner, Death Masks, 1967. Ceramic, four pieces. 6 × 6 × 3 in. each. Collection: Stephanie Freed, Miami Beach. Photo: D. James Dee.
36. Michele Oka Doner, Pair of Tattooed Dolls, 1968. Glazed porcelain with iron oxide. 13 × 9 × 9 in. each. Collection Museum of Arts and Design, New York. Photo: Hugh Laing.
37. Rudolf Baranik, Napalm Elegy, 1972. Oil on canvas. 72 × 72 in. Courtesy the Estate of Rudolf Baranik.
38. Antonio Frasconi, Viet Nam! 1967. Illustrated book with thirteen woodcuts and seven relief halftones. Page: 21-1/16 × 13-15/16 in. (53 × 35.4 cm); prints: various dimensions. Publisher and printer: Antonio Frasconi, South Norwalk, CT. Edition: 5. Walter Bareiss Fund and Gift of Leo Auerbach (by exchange). The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Art © Antonio Frasconi/Licensed by VAGA New York. Digital Image © The Museum of Modern Art, New York/Licensed by SCALA/Art Resource, New York.
Baranik defined his painting practice as “social formalism.” Inspired by Elegies to the Spanish Republic by Robert Motherwell (who was known for his active liberalism, but also for separating his politics from his art) as well as Picasso’s Guernica, Baranik explained that social formalism was using political content in ways that kept the work grounded in explorations of painting as a medium. In pursuing this method, Baranik was one of the few artists of the period who actively sought to unite formalism with politics, an approach entirely antithetical to contemporary formalist dogma. Baranik commented in 1977, “I don’t consider formalism my enemy, contrary to the way some expressionist or political artists view it. Formalism is much more than the Greenbergian version. . . . I see form as the very sensitive nerve-ends of content, as important at least as the general impulse which sent it on its way, and there is no art of validity which is not formalist.”84