Artists Respond: American Art and the Vietnam War, 1965 – 1975

National Tour

Smithsonian American Art Museum
in Washington, DC
Minneapolis Institute of Art
in Minneapolis, Minnesota
Martha Rosler, Red Strip Kitchen

How the Vietnam War changed American art

 

By the late 1960s, the United States was in pitched conflict both in Vietnam, against a foreign power, and at home—between Americans for and against the war, for and against the status quo. Artists Respond: American Art and the Vietnam War, 1965–1975 presents art created amid this turmoil, spanning the period from President Lyndon B. Johnson’s fateful decision to deploy U.S. ground troops to South Vietnam in 1965 to the fall of Sài Gòn ten years later.

 

Artists Respond is the most comprehensive exhibition to examine the contemporary impact of the Vietnam War on American art. The exhibition is unprecedented in its historical scale and depth. It brings together nearly 100 works by fifty-eight of the most visionary and provocative artists of the period. Galvanized by the moral urgency of the Vietnam War, these artists reimagined the goals and uses of art, affecting developments in multiple movements and media: painting, sculpture, printmaking, performance, installation, documentary art, and conceptualism. This exhibition presents both well-known and rarely discussed works, and offers an expanded view of American art during the war, introducing a diversity of previously marginalized artistic voices, including women, African Americans, Latinos, and Asian Americans. The exhibition makes vivid an era in which artists endeavored to respond to the turbulent times and openly questioned issues central to American civic life.

Artists Respond: American Art and the Vietnam War, 1965 – 1975 is organized by Melissa Ho, curator of twentieth-century art at the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

The exhibition is presented in conjunction with an installation by internationally acclaimed artist Tiffany Chung. Tiffany Chung: Vietnam, Past Is Prologue, probes the legacies of the Vietnam War and its aftermath through maps, paintings, and videos that share the stories of former Vietnamese refugees.

Exhibition Catalogue

Artists Respond: American Art and the Vietnam War, 1965-1975

How the Vietnam War Changed American Art. More than forty years after the last American soldiers withdrew from Sài Gòn, Artists Respond affords a “real time” view of the Vietnam era as seen through the eyes of American artists. Each work was created as the conflict raged at home and abroad and is a record of how artists absorbed and contended with the dilemmas of the war as they unfolded.

Video

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  • The archival photographs shown here draw a vivid picture of a turbulent decade. What did American artists create in the midst of this turmoil? The exhibition Artists Respond: American Art and the Vietnam War, 1965–1975 at the Smithsonian American Art Museum brings together nearly 100 works by dozens of artists working in a wide range of movements and media during this era.

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  • Artists Respond: American Art and the Vietnam War, 1965-1975 examines the contemporary impact of the Vietnam War on American art and brings together nearly 100 works by fifty-eight of the most visionary and provocative artists of the period. Listen to Melissa Ho, curator of 20th century art, talk about Artists Respond at the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

    MELISSA HO: “Artists Respond” is an exhibition that looks at the impact of the Vietnam War on American art. It focuses specifically on the period 1965 to 1975. What you’ll see in the show is that there were artists of all kinds who were asking the question of, in a moment of crisis, of national reckoning, what does art do? Should it stay separate and elevated from real-world and current events? Or can it somehow find a way to weigh into them?

    I think visitors might be surprised to see that the show is not entirely photojournalism and protest art. In fact, most of it does not fall into those categories. And it’s art that engages with the war through its imagery, through its emotional tenor, through its political engagement, and through engagement with broader themes like violence and power and mortality. And it also shows the art world in transition. It’s a moment when there is much greater pluralism being expressed through the visual arts — people of color and women are increasingly demanding to be heard. It’s no accident that you can find that while looking at work made in response to the Vietnam War, because, among other things, the military draft was a really galvanizing political issue for a lot of minority communities.

    I hope that visitors will experience these pieces as powerful, challenging works of art, but I also think the exhibition really encourages you to look at them through the lens of the specific historical context. It’s almost like opening a letter from fifty years earlier and being able to hear a voice, read a voice, speaking directly to us across time. I really hope that in a way, the experience of walking through the show is almost a kind of time travel where you can either remember or experience secondhand for the first time this moment in American history.
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  • Join us for a day of discussions and lectures on topics related to Artists Respond: American Art and the Vietnam War, 1965–1975. A group of distinguished scholars provides insights into how artists of the Vietnam War era sought to engage—with their current moment, with the public sphere, and with politics. Six artists whose work is in the exhibition—including Rupert García, Hans Haacke, and Martha Rosler—also speak, addressing their varied experiences of the war period.

    Morning Session
    9:30 a.m.
    Stephanie Stebich, Margaret and Terry Stent Director, SAAM
    Welcome

    9:40 a.m.
    Melissa Ho, exhibition curator, SAAM
    Introduction

    10:15 a.m.
    Mignon Nixon, professor of modern and contemporary art, University College London

    10:45 a.m. -11:00 a.m.
    Break

    11:00 a.m.
    Chon Noriega, professor, UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television director, UCLA Chicano Studies Research Center

    11:30 a.m.
    Fred Ritchin, dean emeritus, International Center of Photography

    12:00 p.m.
    Discussion with morning speakers
    Moderated by independent scholar Katherine Markoski

    12:30 p.m. -2:00 p.m.
    Break for lunch

    Date
  • Join us for a day of discussions and lectures on topics related to Artists Respond: American Art and the Vietnam War, 1965–1975. A group of distinguished scholars provides insights into how artists of the Vietnam War era sought to engage—with their current moment, with the public sphere, and with politics. Six artists whose work is in the exhibition—including Rupert García, Hans Haacke, and Martha Rosler—also speak, addressing their varied experiences of the war period.

    Afternoon session
    2:00-3:30 p.m.
    Artist panel I: Art in California
    Harry Gamboa Jr., Rupert García, and Martha Rosler
    Discussion with panelists moderated by Thomas Crow, Rosalie Solow Professor of Modern Art, Institute of Fine Arts, NYU

    3:30-3:45 p.m.
    Break

    3:45-5:30 p.m.
    Artist panel II: Art in New York
    Judith Bernstein, Hans Haacke, and Carolee Schneemann
    Discussion with panelists moderated by Julia Bryan-Wilson, professor of modern and contemporary art, University of California, Berkeley

    5:30-7:00 p.m.
    Artists Respond exhibition open for viewing

    SAAM Stories

    “Of the ’60s shows I’ve seen in the past few years, this one is the best, evocative of its time, and in sync with the present.”

    —Holland Cotter, The New York Times

    “The cruel, unanswerable question of how art should respond to war is at the heart of Artists Respond: American Art and the Vietnam War, 1965-1975, a must-see show at the Smithsonian American Art Museum.”

    —Sebastian Smee, The Washington Post

    Artists included in the exhibition are: Carl Andre, Benny Andrews, Art Workers’ Coalition, Asco, Judith Bernstein, Chris Burden, T.C. Cannon, Mel Casas, Rosemarie Castoro, Judy Chicago, William Copley, Emile de Antonio, Mark di Suvero, James Gong Fu Dong, Dan Flavin, Terry Fox, Rupert García, Leon Golub, Philip Jones Griffiths, Guerrilla Art Action Group, Philip Guston, Hans Haacke, David Hammons, Wally Hedrick, Douglas Huebler, Carlos Irizzary, Kim Jones, Donald Judd, On Kawara, Corita Kent, Edward Kienholz, Yayoi Kusama, John Lennon and Yoko Ono, Fred Lonidier, Malaquias Montoya, Robert Morris, Bruce Nauman, Barnett Newman, Jim Nutt, Claes Oldenburg, Yoko Ono, Dennis Oppenheim, Liliana Porter, Yvonne Rainer, Ad Reinhardt, Faith Ringgold, Martha Rosler, Peter Saul, Carolee Schneemann, Robert Smithson, Nancy Spero, May Stevens, Carol Summers, Paul Thek, Jesse Treviño, Tomi Ungerer, Timothy Washington, and William Weege.

    The Terra Foundation logo and the Henry Luce Foundation logo

    Credits

    Artists Respond: American Art and the Vietnam War, 1965–1975 is organized by the Smithsonian American Art Museum with generous support from Anonymous, Diane and Norman Bernstein Foundation, Sheri and Joe Boulos, the Gene Davis Memorial Fund, Glenstone Foundation, Norbert Hornstein and Amy Weinberg, the Henry Luce Foundation, Nion McEvoy and Leslie Berriman, Cindy Miscikowski, Daniel C. and Teresa Moran Schwartz, the Smithsonian Scholarly Studies Awards, and the Terra Foundation for American Art.