The Vietnam War, a divisive and controversial conflict, had a profoundimpact on the art of its time. “Artists Respond: American Art and theVietnam 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 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 March 15 through Aug. 18; “Vietnam, Past is Prologue” is on view March 15 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 moralquestioning 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.”