PRINT November 1970

Political Communications

Political communications from various segments of the art community will be published in this section from time to time. Material is selected on the basis of its potential interest to the general art community and does not necessarily reflect the views of the Artforum staff.

The following Newsletter was received from the New Art Association, formed from within the College Art Association by “concerned younger individuals within the field of art who wish to effect changes in the teaching, study and practice of art, and to bring about changes in the art institutions of our society.”

September 1970
Box 504
Planetarium Station
New York, N.Y. 10024

We are against the myth of the neutrality of art.

We deny that esthetic experiences flow only into further esthetic experiences, for we believe there is a firm tie between the artistic imaginationmand social imagination.

We object to the study of art as an activity separated from other human concerns. We are against the confinement of the esthetic experience to isolated, heavily guarded, disinfected objects contemplated under conditions of benign satisfaction.

We are against the reduction of art to an object of speculation and an ornament for exploiters. We are against the complicity of professors who act as hirelings to investors, publishing houses and galleries by masking with scholarly dignity wheeling and dealing in art.

We are against the commercial interests which deform the careers and choices of young artists.

We oppose the pitiful tasks which teachers assume as conveyer belts of stupid, isolated facts and dead data.

We oppose the abuse of the teacher’s power over the student to make him regard his ignorance as a crippling defect rather than an opportunity for knowledge.

We are against the degradation of teaching as inferior to publishing and the treachery of graduate programs which certify students for teaching jobs they are not prepared to do.

We are against the fetish of the doctorate, geared to the academic market rather than to the values of the field or the individual. We oppose as a crime against the human mind the exhaustion of immature students in specialized research before they have a wide grasp of human culture and a chance to probe the philosophical foundations of their field.

We are against the production by the graduate education industry of technocrats of art history––of inefficient, archaic human data banks.

We are against the artificial segregation of the study of art from other disciplines ––anthropology, history, etc.––and its careful protection from social issues. We are against the fragmentation of knowledge which suppresses the real implication of our cultural heritage by providing an ideology which upholds the racist, patriarchal and class structure of our society and justifies the power of the strong over the weak.

We are against the use of museums by self-interested wealth for its own prestige and financial aggrandizement, and the subservience of museum directors and curators to those interests. We are against self-perpetuating boards of trustees in museums, and the lack of representation on such boards of artists and other groups in the community.

We deplore the failure of all but a few art museums to represent and serve living artists in their community, and their failure to regard as the museum’s province the esthetic destiny of the communities outside their walls.

We are against pretentious, intellectually condescending exhibitions that are accompanied by catalogs swollen with mystifying verbiage.

We are against the patriarchal system pervading higher education and the museum world, in which adult students are treated as children and women are relegated to underpaid and subservient positions.

We want art and its study to exist in the center of life and not in its margins. We want art to reveal the value of human imagination and its role in reality.


Opposition to the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s proposed Rockefeller and Lehman wings (a 30% increase in exhibition area) is largely concerned with the protection of Central Park, decentralization, city financial responsibilities, etc. Thus concerned with protecting various aspects of the public interest, this opposition is, nevertheless, largely in agreement with the Metropolitan on the value and the right of the Museum to add these collections. However, one can question the means and ends taken for granted in the acquiring of vast art collections and the centralizing of these collections in American museum custody.

The Rockefeller aggregate of Primitive Art is made up of 3000 items. What does it mean to accumulate such a ’“wealth” of art? What does it mean to present such objects in public trust?

Americans collect art in massive expenditures of surplus wealth (aided by governmental tax policies). The collecting of art, the aggrandizement of cultural choice, can be considered as surplus dividends to the exalted existence of the dominant West. As one notes in the Lehman Collection, the collecting of art continues to function as an imperial preserve in respect to the quasi-deification of the collector.

The power governing the acquisition and distribution of art is a distillation of the acquisitions and distributions of economic and strategic resources. Boards of Trustees of major museums are powerful crosssections of American international economic power. The assets of art are as equally well protected as the assets of oil, uranium or cobalt. Characterologically, the collecting of art on vast scales illustrates in a highly sublimated manner the consumption patterns and fantasies of American power manias.

A museum is an agency to centralize the holding of artifacts and art objects. These must come from somewhere. This somewhere is typically the nations that cannot protect their arts for one reason or another. Just as it is an assumed American prerogative to take possession of (what is estimated to be) 60 - 70% of the world’s resources, it is, also, our privilege to take possession of much of the world’s art. There is a relationship between this control of world assets and the fact that since 1946, the U.S. government has spent “more than one trillion dollars for national security.” (Richard J. Barnet, The Economy of Death.) The U.S. maintains the privilege of intervention, the power to police much of the world. Our cultural imperative is one with our strategic and territorial imperatives.

Mellon or Frick, overseers of financial empires, become cultural princes thru their interest in art. Installed in public or private museums, art is the visual embodiment, the superb dividend, of gigantic international power and success. In such a setting, art is the crest of the power of an empire and is anchored by the military-industrial might of the nation.

The establishment of the National Gallery is an ambitious capstone to the pseudo neo-classical imperial dreams of Washington. The style of architecture and the style of collecting help set the external national style thru which dreams of manifest destiny can be made evident.

The American empire gluts itself with arms, strategic materials, overuse of the environment, and it is no coincidence that we glut ourselves with art. We wallow in the resources of the world; this is glut, the pollution of indiscriminate over-utilization of resource.

Money strips art, and the sale of art objects to the highest bidder, in effect, with rare exception, means American museums or collectors. The “purchase” is often a euphemism for theft. Such objects are stolen in that they are more or less surreptitiously transported to hot international markets. Complicated trails of paper and intermediate transmission stages disguise the means of acquisition. Thru legal papered means, money takes possession. However the means, the art object (like Indian territories in the U.S.) inevitably arrives in the hands of a white owner class.

A nation is able to protect its art resources largely in proportion to its ability to plunder others. Europe attempts to protect its artifacts and art objects thru sophisticated and punitive controls. Plundering primarily occurs in respect to isolated valuable objects. Even so, there is a large trade in Etruscan art, Cycladic art, etc. At the extreme limits of imperialism, we both destroy the life and ravage the art of a civilization. These objects are then put on museum display so that we may study the destroyed culture, e.g., Indian artifacts.

It is important to have access to the records of the past, but not thru over-pretentious or fossilized display. The Metropolitan Museum wishes to hump itself with the huge accretions of the Lehman and Rockefeller Collections. Did the Metropolitan Museum ever seriously consider whether it is the right museum, in the right location, in the right city, or for that matter, in the right country?

The U.S. has exploded millions of tons of bombs in Southeast Asia, “given” billions of dollars to “save” Indochina, but never art objects! Is this idea too naive or farcical to contemplate? Yet we strive to preserve art as indelible proof of high intentions and national innocence. Given the rampaging power of the American empire, it is hard to visualize the museum as engaged with world culture and dis-engaged from imperial power. It is difficult to view the museum (as it would prefer to be viewed) free from the economic and strategic motivations and status preoccupations of its major collectors and Boards of Trustees.

The fact that we have more dollars or more advanced technology doesn’t give us rights in Southeast Asia, nor does it privilege the acquiring of the world’s art. We enjoy no such manifest destiny! It is necessary to renounce our “taking” habits. This is a time for cultural restitution. This is one of a sequence of reversals, the redistribution of strategic priorities, that we must eventually engage in, and therefore, the sooner the better. It is time that the U.S. retrenched in respect to the strategic policing of the world, a time to cut imperial ties and therefore, also a time to cut grab-bagging at the world’s cultural resources.

How do you break the rhythm of acquisition, the prestige granted to those whose dreams of power or magnificence “enrich” our museums? Let go! is a call of this generation, and the fattest and most glutted country and the fattest and most glutted museums need to begin the process. The Metropolitan Museum is a good place to begin. The Museum can refuse the Lehman and Rockefeller Collections. The Metropolitan doesn’t have to be the “ greatest” or the “ biggest.” Let the Lehman Foundation be advised to consider dividing the collection amongst, let’s say, South American countries or let it be given to India or Nigeria, or some such disposition, or perhaps consider returns to the countries of origin.

In respect to Primitive Art, restitution and reparation are more imperative. These areas have been stolen blind. A proposal for the disposition of the Rockefeller gift: that 80% of this collection be returned to the lands of origin with the further provision that sufficient funds be allocated (from Nelson Rockefeller, the Metropolitan Museum, perhaps the government) to house these repatriated objects. Funds for building could be a means of paying for the 20% that could be retained by the Metropolitan Museum. Where requested, that percentage of Primitive Art that is retained here could be paid for thru examples of contemporary American art.

Obviously such a plan is not only provisional, it is highly utopian. Who would accede to this? Boards of Trustees? Yet the plan must go further. One might well inquire about other manifestly illegally acquired works of art. Finally it is necessary that some manner of international law be achieved and international bodies be established to see to such restitution. Restitution and exchange, once established by international agreement, could extend backwards in time to an agreed upon date.

Such provisions would be as difficult to agree on or enforce as any renunciation of power always is. But one has to begin somewhere. A recommendation by the Metropolitan Museum that the Lehman or Rockefeller Collections be internationally redistributed would be a fantastic symbolic relinquishment of power.1 Addendum: Thomas P. F. Hoving, Director of the Metropolitan, reported to the June annual meeting of the American Association of Museums (AAM) of a “Unesco draft convention . . . against the despoiling of architectural
sites and thefts of national art treasures. . . . ” (New York Times,
June 3, 1970). In a report from Ankara (New York Times, August 27, 1970), the Turkish government is recorded as asking the Metropolitan Museum “to supply details on a hoard of antiquities, including gold said to come from the kingdom of Croesus, that is alleged to be in the museum’s basement after having been illegally exported from Turkey . . . . The first inkling of the treasure’s existence came soon after the disclosure by the Boston Museum of Fine Arts that it had acquired for a ‘six-figure sum’ a hoard of royal gold from an unknown site in the Middle East . . . . Shortly afterward The Boston Globe reported that an even more spectacular hoard, including what it described as the gold of Croesus, tomb paintings, jewelry and Greek vases, was in the basement of the Metropolitan . . . .” The list of illegally exported art objects consists of “nearly a thousand important items removed over the last 10-15 years . . . .” Theodore Rousseau, vice director and chief curator of the Metropolitan is then quoted: “ ‘Certainly we have not exported anything illegally from Turkey,’ he said, adding that much of what he had heard ‘seemed to be hearsay fabrication around something that might have a kernel of truth to it.’”
––Leon Golub

1. Nor need one argue that the provisions of the Lehman will forbid such action, the typical “legal” argument to avoid action. Regardless of the legal status of the Lehman Collection, the Museum is still a free agent in regard to its own proper purposes.

Software can be loosely defined as information that results from the use of technology. An immediate practical problem of software is that the system that controls the technology (hardware) tries to control the resulting information (software).

The “Software” show at the Jewish Museum is put on by the public relations firm of Ruder and Finn for their client, American Motors, who paid most of the $100,000 the show cost. The show is also sponsored by the Smithsonian Institution, where it will be installed next. A so-called cultural institution has been invaded by a business and government amalgam for public relations purposes, with little concern or regard for art. In this case, the Jewish Museum has willingly abandoned its position of cultural independence to serve the interests of business/government.

We put together five films about the artists in the show. The films were to be shown in the museum as part of the show. During the editing, we came to question the concept of the show. We came to understand that the museum was being used to promote technology rather than art. We wanted to impose this understanding onto the films, to improve and focus their content, and express our point of view. We placed our information in the films in a deliberate way with super-imposed, spoken titles. We either scratched away the image to make room for the title or we burned the title through the image. We anticipated that the system might meet any such challenge to its authority with repression and censorship.

The “Software” show enhances the authority of the present use of technology by making a prominent and impressive display of the hardware. Our titles are: “Software is the illusion of the effectiveness of technology” and “The system promotes software to postpone its own collapse.” If the technology is suspect, then the information resulting from technology is suspect also, and the system cannot allow that suspicion to be widely held.

In the show, the artists are also intended to enhance the technology, by estheticizing it. If they resisted being used that way, they were also
censored. Les Levine, for example, tried to eroticize video technology, by showing a couple fucking. This was labelled pornography and the fucking scenes were cut out of his tapes without his knowledge or consent John Giorno tried to politicize radio technology, by broadcasting political speeches in the museum. He was not allowed to broadcast a speech by Eldridge Cleaver (partly because Cleaver is associated with anti-Zionism, which is a delicate subject at the Jewish Museum). The threat of bad publicity caused the museum to give in on both of these issues, and allow the artists’ original intentions.

“Cultural revolution is a weapon of the social revolution” was the third title. And in another film where two artists are discussing the relationship of an artist to the revolution, we placed a quote from Mao: “If you want to know the theory and methods of revolution, you must take part in revolution.”

All four titles were cut out of the films. The Mao quote in particular incited the repressive wrath of the museum. Karl Katz, the museum director, said: “I am suppressing your films because I don’t believe in Maoism.”

The situation is complicated further by the fact that we were making the films in conjunction with Van Schley. The cooperative nature of our working situation disintegrated. So we put the titles into the film without Van Schley’s knowledge, as we knew he would try to prevent us from doing it. When we showed him the titles in the finished film, Van freaked.

Later, he cut the titles out, and the museum supported him. Van Schley
was in a delicate position, because he had allowed the museum to believe he was the sole maker of the films, and the museum completed the rip-off by crediting Van Schley exclusively as the artist. Our titles prevented Van from calling the films exclusively his. And, regardless of the authorship, the museum was bound to respect the integrity of the art product, once they had identified it as art.

At first, Karl Katz was adamant: “I’m the director of this museum. I decide what goes in this museum, and what does not. I decide who the artist is, and you are not the artist.”

Jack Burnham, the show’s curator, had a better grasp of the situation. He finally agreed that, “It’s not that offensive, in fact it fits into the whole theme of the show.”

With Jack Burnham, we worked out a compromise; the museum would show both versions, the cut version on the loop projectors, and the integral version, as one long film, in a different section of the room. We accepted the compromise. But Burnham could not get Katz to agree. He absolutely refused to discuss the matter. And when he saw that I was tape recording the conversation (we had been taping everything that happened at the museum), he also freaked out: “I will not be intimidated by anything, bullshit on that kind of crap. It’s a lot of horseshit to start taping conversations.” And he stalked away.

We were left with no alternative but to refuse to let the museum show the films. The next morning, the films were found cut to pieces, and there was a sign posted which read: “If the museum will not show these films the way they were made, then they will not be shown at all.”

With no films to show, and their vulnerability exposed, the museum had to accept that we existed, and that we had to be dealt with in a reasonable manner. We submitted our proposals and they responded. Finally, we all met in Katz ’s fourth floor office, and agreed that the films would be shown in two versions. All credits to the film would be to “Great Balls of Fire.”

And at this meeting, Karl Katz again noticed my tape recorder and asked me to turn it off. When I asked why, he replied: “Because I think it is childish and also, a form of software which, beyond the third floor, does not exist.”

The irony of it all is that this article is exactly the kind of software which Karl Katz tried so vainly to prevent. It is information in a different system over which he has no control. As filmmakers, we have had to revert to print to clarify our position, because in electric technology we encountered resistance and censorship at every level of activity (a circumstance McLuhan’s electric euphoria does not consider). Free, relevant self-expression in electric software is constantly threatened, and undermined, as in our experience with the Jewish Museum, by self-serving, autocratic bureaucrats, who are agents of a collapsing system’s struggle for self-preservation.

Bob Fiore
Barbara Jarvis