Kill for Peace: American Artists Against the Vietnam War
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.
slightly less on its signatories and instead marshaled specific historical evidence for its argument against the war. To begin with, it paralleled U.S. actions in the Vietnam War with France’s during the Algerian War for Independence (1954– 1962), and compared the budding American antiwar movement with the anticolonialist movement against the Algerian War, in which French artists and intellectuals—from Jean-Paul Sartre and François Mauriac to Pablo Picasso and Albert Camus—called on the French
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
the peace cause their most important possessions—major examples of their work—these artists have demonstrated their involvement in the strongest possible manner.31 The curators saw the exhibition as a solution for nonobjective artists who were politically active in the antiwar effort but did not engage politics in their work.32 The curators believed the exhibition of these artists’ best works was the strongest way they could protest the war. While the curators left it somewhat ambiguous in the
Airlines (“another Rockefeller interest”) were represented on the Defense Industry Advisory Council, which reported directly to the International Logistics Group and the International Security Affairs Division of 55. Guerrilla Art Action Group, A Call for the Immediate Resignation of All the Rockefellers from the Board of Trustees of the Museum of Modern Art, November 10, 1969. Courtesy Jon Hendricks. Israel_5153_BK.indd 139 139 4/10/13 12:17 PM 56. Guerrilla Art Action Group, A Call for
York art world. The strike’s lack of a developed ideological program—other than a broad strike—made it collapse “under the weight of dissension and disagreement,” in the words of Maurice Berger.37 Outside the strike, a few peace activities were organized during the successive months of 1970. One was the exhibition My God! We’re Losing a Great Country, held at the New School for Social Research during the month of June.38 Another was the organization of the Peace Portfolio, an original print