The Vietnam War, a divisive and controversial conflict, had a profound impact on the art of its time. “Artists Respond: American Art and the Vietnam War, 1965–1975” emphasizes how American artists grappled with the dilemmas of the war as it was unfolding—from President Lyndon B. Johnson’s fateful decision to deploy U.S. ground troops to South Vietnam in 1965 to the fall of Saigon 10 years later. The exhibition, now on view at the Smithsonian American Art Museum, 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” 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 115 objects by 58 of the most visionary and provocative artists of the period. 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.
“Artists Respond” is organized by Melissa Ho, curator of 20th-century art at the Smithsonian American Art Museum. The exhibition is presented in conjunction with an installation by internationally acclaimed artist Tiffany Chung, organized by Sarah Newman, the James Dicke Curator of Contemporary Art at the museum. “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. "Artists Respond" is on view now through Aug. 18; "Vietnam, Past is Prologue" is on view through Sept. 22.
“At the Smithsonian American Art Museum, we are committed to creating groundbreaking exhibitions and exploring lesser-known chapters of American art to expand our understanding of American visual culture,” said Stephanie Stebich, the Margaret and Terry Stent Director at the Smithsonian American Art Museum. “This long-awaited exhibition provides a needed reevaluation of this time period and the changes in American art that are still present today.”
“Present-tense works of art from the Vietnam War era reflect the moral questioning and spiritual pain of that time,” Ho said. “Recounting the turmoil of the Vietnam War era reminds us that many of the social and political ruptures we live with today have roots in that moment. The art speaks of the past, but it is a past whose tremors still animate our present.”
Artists, galvanized by the moral urgency of the Vietnam War, reimagined the goals and uses of art, affecting developments in multiple movements and media: painting, sculpture, printmaking, performance, installation, documentary art and conceptualism. The exhibition and book include work by 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 exhibition’s presentation includes a dedicated interpretative space that offers visitors a place to reflect on the artworks on display and the era. This space contains a timeline of cultural and political events and a response wall that invites visitors to share thoughts about the material in the exhibition.
The exhibition catalog features essays by Ho; Thomas Crow, the Rosalie Solow Professor of Modern Art at the Institute of Fine Arts, New York University; Erica Levin, assistant professor of the history of art at The Ohio State University; Katherine Markoski, independent scholar; Mignon Nixon, professor of modern and contemporary art at University College London; and Martha Rosler, artist and author. It is published by the Smithsonian American Art Museum in association with Princeton University Press. The book is available for purchase in the museum store and online ($65, hardcover).
Following the presentation in Washington, D.C., the exhibition will travel to the Minneapolis Institute of Art where it will be on display from Sept. 28 through Jan. 5, 2020.