The exact date of this episode is unknown. We've filled in the date above with a placeholder. What we actually have on record is: 1970-06-25 to 1970-07-01.
This episode is from the WNYC archives. It may contain language which is no longer politically or socially appropriate.
Art is no stranger to socio-political subject matter, as exemplified by pieces like Picasso’s Guernica. But can the role of the artist go beyond expression? Can artists truly effect change? Art critic and representative of the Emergency Cultural Government, Max Kozloff, grapples with some of these issues in this interview with Views on Art host, Ruth Bowman.
On April 30, 1970, President Nixon made a nationwide televised speech announcing the U.S. invasion of Cambodia, sparking protests at universities around the country. The impassioned protests escalated quickly, resulting in violent arrests, riots, and shootings. The art world in New York City proved not to be immune to the surrounding turmoil. On May 18, 1970, a group of some 1500 artists, dealers, and critics met at NYU’s Loeb Student Center to discuss a course of action. The meeting resulted in a number of resolutions which included the proposal for the New York Art Strike against War, Repression, Racism and Sexism, and the creation of the Emergency Cultural Government.
In this interview, art critic, Max Kozloff shares his first-hand account of the events of the meeting and their resulting actions. He speaks, specifically, about the Emergency Cultural Government (ECG), a group composed of those same New York artists, dealers, and critics, with the immediate aim of organizing artist boycotts of government-sponsored exhibitions overseas. Paraphrasing its introduction to the meeting floor by artist, Irving Petlin, he says:
For too long has the American government utilized, well, even better, manipulated American art and its prestige abroad for purposes of giving its more lethal policies in Southeast Asia, a kind of cultural sugar coating - a kind of attempt to produce, in foreign countries, an image of itself as a very benevolent, generous, art sensitive regime. The artists decided that this state of affairs could no longer be viable, and didn’t represent them - didn’t represent their feelings about our [government’s] policies.
Kozloff goes on to describe the ECG’s attempt to boycott the Venice Biennale and the resistance exhibited by Smithsonian officials like Lois Bingham. He criticizes their stance and claims of political neutrality: “It can’t be avoided. Like it or not, we are all politicized. To be silent, to remain neutral, even in the name of professional ethics, is tantamount, in our way of thinking, to expressing sympathy, or simply - just abstaining is already an act of cooperation.”
He expresses his frustration with government officials like Senator Jacob K. Javitz, who demonstrate their whole-hearted support for artists, but not for professionals in other fields, the implication being that artists don’t count. Their support, then, is superficial - rooted in indulgence, rather than in respect and empathy. When questioned about the cumulative effect of their actions on the average American citizen, Kozloff cites their “tremendous capacity to be contagious,” and hopes that by setting the example, and by acting as a “strike of conscience,” they will encourage those in other critical industries to take similar action by, “throwing rocks into the gears of the system.”
WNYC archives id: 8852