Curated by Lucy R. Lippard
In 1990, fifteen years after the Vietnam War, Lucy Lippard collaborated with the Whatcom Museum of History and Art and ICI to curate A Different War: Vietnam in Art, a show the Seattle Times called “the most powerful art exhibition in recent memory.” The exhibition was the first critical examination of the impact of the Vietnam War on American artists at the dawn of the protest era in the United States.
“The Vietnam War had a powerful impact on American culture, yet it’s influence on American art has to yet been fully explored. After a decade of avoidance, repression, and silence, Americans are finally coming to terms with a war that deeply divided our country. As scholars, veterans, peace activists and others have begun to assess the impact of the war on American history and culture, it is highly appropriate that an exhibition be organized that explores it’s impact on recent American art history. A Different War is the result of nearly four years of research and destined, we hope, to make a significant contribution to American art scholarship. As the first critical examination of the impact of the Vietnam War on American art in the past twenty-five years, the exhibition and accompanying publication will write an important chapter of recent American art history, a chapter that has been too painful, personal or political to properly assess in the past…
Little of the art in A Different War is pleasant to look at. Much of it conveys deep sadness, loss, unease- even madness. And yet, as Jock Reynolds, Executive Director of the Washington Project for the Arts in Washington D.C., has said:
“We can circumvent, avoid, and repress our history and encourage our culture to be more decorative, distracting, and vapid, or we can directly face this part of our national history if artists choose to participate in struggle for needed understanding as they see fit. As we yearn for peace and beauty, for masterpieces of harmony and resolution, difficult and disturbing subjects must not be avoided. Those willing to tackle them deserve support and encouragement, for there is beauty in such work too.”
Excerpt from A Different War: Vietnam in Art, 1990