The New York Times reviews "Artists Respond: American Art and the Vietnam War, 1965–1975" at the Smithsonian American Art Museum and acknowledges the powerful gathering of works, many by artists who sought to condemn the war. The exhibition is paired with a smaller exhibition by Tiffany Chung, a Vietnamese-born American artist, who uses maps, videos, and paintings to highlight the voices and stories of former Vietnamese refugees.
Whatever happened to “protest art” — issue-specific, say-no-to-power-and-say-it-loud art? Here we are, embroiled, as a nation, in what many in the art world regard as a pretty desperate political situation. Yet with the exception for actions by a few collectives — Decolonize This Place at the Whitney Museum, and Prescription Addiction Intervention Now, or PAIN, at the Guggenheim and the Metropolitan Museum of Art — there’s scant visual evidence of pushback.
Has the product glut demanded by endless art fairs distracted from the protest impulse? Has the flood of news about turmoil in Washington put out the fires of resistance among artists? Has protest art simply become unfashionable?
Such questions came to mind on a visit to “Artists Respond: American Art and the Vietnam War, 1965-1975,” a big, inspiriting survey at the Smithsonian American Art Museum here. Everything in it dates from a time in the past when the nation was in danger of losing its soul, and American artists — some, anyway — were trying to save theirs by denouncing what they viewed as a racist war.