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PRINT October 1978

Oyvind Fahlstrom’s Political Gamesmanship

OYVIND FAHLSTROM DIED OF cancer on November 9, 1976. He left behind a question, scribbled in the diaristic notations of his late work. It is phrased as a question of “political art,” and reads: “Can we become the sons/daughters of Marx and Mondrian?”

The query is not original. The social role of the artist has been hotly debated since the late 18th century, with accelerated energy in the last decades. The literature on “engagement,” “commitment,” and the ethical obligation of the artist is indication enough. What is original is Fahlstrom’s answer, its esthetic cast, and its relation to the dense and involuted imagery of his mature work. For there are two ways to interpret the proposed merger. One involves a division between political and esthetic activity. This is the conventional separation of the artist’s roles, each passionately pursued, as a member of society and as a specialist. The

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