The Art of War

A Brief History of Protest Art

Kozloff, like many other artists who came of age during the Vietnam era, has never quite forgotten that art must engage political issues. From Martha Rosler's "Bringing the War Home" series to the Art Workers Coalition's "Q: And Babies? A: And Babies" poster about the My Lai massacre, more than a few artists during the 1960s and early '70s bucked the trend of minimalism and stationed themselves at the forefront of the counterculture. Though the anti-war rhetoric may have subsided with the U.S. withdrawal from Vietnam, many of the tactics developed to create these works later re-emerged in the Reagan era, under the guise of deconstructing media representations. Barbara Kruger's We Don't Need Another Hero or Jenny Holzer's Abuse of Power Comes as No Surprise coincided with U.S. invasions—of El Salvador, Guatemala, Nicaragua, and Grenada—without targeting any one war in particular.

Goya's etching Esto es peor (This Is Worse), from his Disasters of War series
image: Francisco de Goya/Sammlung Olbricht, Essen
Goya's etching Esto es peor (This Is Worse), from his Disasters of War series

In fact, even while the art world has retreated from the front lines, art about war has never really gone away, as Whitney curator Larry Rinder discovered while assembling works for his upcoming show, "The American Effect," opening July 3. With approximately 50 artists from 30 countries, Rinder hopes to show how the U.S. is perceived internationally. More than a few works address recent military conflicts, such as Aleksandar Zograf's comic book How I Met America, illustrating his experience of NATO bombing in Serbia, and Korean artist Yongsuk Kang's photographs of a village near the Kuni firing range, sometimes called Vieques East. "The 20th century has been horrific in terms of war and armed conflict, so it's inevitable that one finds this reflected in art," says Rinder. "It did not crop up in museum shows, but that did not mean it was not being made."

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