PRINT October 1989


AS THE 1980s DRAW to a close, it is becoming increasingly difficult for the guardians of first world culture to ignore the production of third world peoples and Western people of color. Sometimes the acceptance of the Other in mainstream contexts merely reiterates old exploitive patterns: the comfort with which white artists have appropriated the styles and forms of the “exotic,” for example—in “primitivist” high Modernism as in the ongoing confiscation of black musical idioms by white rock ’n’ roll artists—can certainly be collusive with a power dynamic that excludes, ignores, and steals. The dealings of the Western cultural apparatus with non-Western cultural manifestations are virtually bound to be troubled, given their history and perhaps the very structure from which they emerge. But the need to make the approach is strong, even when the effort is marred. The recent “Magiciens de Ia terre” (Magicians of the earth) exhibition in Paris, in which artists from numerous non-Western countries exhibited alongside Western artists, is a case in point: though “Magiciens” may in the end have distorted third world practices by filtering them through decidedly Western intellectual and esthetic value systems, the show was nevertheless an important confrontation between a complacent, powerful cultural community and the world’s real, non-Western majority. More effectively, some of the current attempts at facing how we have treated the Other aim at a fundamental shift in the balance of power—a transfer of authority in which Others are not spoken for but speak for themselves.1

Twenty-five years ago in Flushing, New York City, the 1964–65 New York World’s Fair made an early and well-publicized attempt to bring together first and third world nations in a cultural forum, under the lofty motto of “Peace through Understanding.” Like international expositions in general, however, the fair was principally concerned with commerce—with fostering the spirit of free enterprise and trade, and with making a profit. Ironically, it was an unqualified economic disaster, 2 but more to the point, it marked no discernible shift in diplomatic relations between nations. (This seems less surprising today than the optimism attached to the fair at the time: no less a politician than Indira Gandhi, in an opening-day speech, talked of the “firm faith in the brotherhood of man and in the future of the human race” behind its "gay facade.”3) In the late 1980s—when a shift toward globalism is discernible in both high and popular Western culture—the tactics of the fair seem crude and obvious. The effort to tie the interests of capital to what seemed a validation of national differences, however, has broad ramifications. In effect, the fair is a working document for historians, a means for understanding the virtually innate, virtually perpetual imperialism and colonialism of our cultural institutions, even when they are well-intentioned. In the end, the 1964–65 World’s Fair, as unusual and seemingly unique as it was, is neither a historical anomaly nor an anachronism in its own time; instead, its magical, insulated world is a blueprint for understanding patterns of oppression that continue to the present day.

The 1964–65 World’s Fair was dominated by a literal global symbol—the massive steel Unisphere, the largest representation of Earth ever made, a 140-foot-high, 900,000-pound armillary globe covered with representations of the continents and encircled by three rings denoting the orbits of the first man-made satellites. These rings accorded with another theme of the fair, the belief that technology, scientific knowledge, and communication, which seemed to be advancing so rapidly, would further the cause of peace by blurring the cultural and societal boundaries between nations.4 But the Unisphere’s symbolism cannot mask the reality that the fair became known as much for national absences as for national presences. Because of World’s Fair Corporation President Robert Moses’ brusque treatment of a Paris coordinating organization for international expositions (he objected to regulations that might have reduced the fair’s anticipated profits), most Western European governments boycotted the event;5 none except Spain contributed a publicly funded pavilion. France, Belgium, Italy, Austria, Switzerland, Greece, Ireland, and Sweden were represented by corporate- or privately-sponsored exhibits, but Great Britain, Norway, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, and Portugal (as well as the Europe-derived cultures of Canada and Australia) were not represented at all. In an improvement over the 1939–40 New York World’s Fair, a large number of non-Western countries did participate, including India, Indonesia, Jordan, Lebanon, Mexico, Pakistan, Sierra Leone, Sudan, and Venezuela. Moreover, if corporate and religious pavilions and the venues of the American states are excluded, national delegations from Africa, Central and South America, and Asia actually outnumbered those from North America and Europe. On the other hand, in perhaps the largest incongruity in the fair’s version of world unity, communist countries, though invited, were totally absent, an omission in part attributable to the capitalistic rhetoric surrounding the event. Inclusion in the fair, then, was conditional on the political and commercial concerns of the organizers. The politics involved may seem transparent to us now, but when a contemporary curator can base a supposedly radical show of non-Western artifacts on the criteria of his own taste, we have to wonder how much has changed.6

Though the U.S. State Department cooperated closely with fair organizers in foreign negotiations, the Fair Corporation was not a government, and its officers had no diplomatic experience to help them resolve tensions among the nations sharing the grounds.7 The agreements between them and the exhibitors—“agreements of participation," they were called—were business contracts, not treaties. And the real business of the 1964–65 World’s Fair, of course, was business. Racial and class conflicts may have been coming to the surface in the America of the early ’60s, but the economic status of the white middle class had improved dramatically since 1945: the explosion of consumer culture and the booming economy had allowed it to buy freely, and to explore new technologies for home, office, and leisure. Accordingly, just as synthetic fabrics, plastics, and television were introduced to the public at the 1939–40 World’s Fair, visitors to Flushing Meadow in 1964 were tempted by a fresh range of products: touch-tone phones, laser devices, atomic and solar energy, new plastics and other synthetic polymers such as neoprene, a plethora of kitchen appliances, and more. 8

These displays, often couched in the seductive rhetoric of futurism, were carefully orchestrated, as if in some monumental suburban shopping mall. Many pavilions used entertainment attractions as the bait to entice visitors toward displays of commodities.9 Even national pavilions employed the clever strategies of seduction traditionally employed by advertising agencies. Neither were their cultural treasures spared: Michelangelo’s Pietà, encased behind glass at the Vatican Pavilion, was seen from a kind of conveyor belt, affording spectators a swift, television-eye view. If countries were associated with “exotic” crafts and pageants, they were also identified with specific products: Sierra Leone with diamonds, Pakistan with industrial equipment, even Belgium with waffles (the rather flavorless “Bel-Gem” Waffle, a batter cake topped with strawberries and whipped cream). Frequently lost in the maze of shops, theaters, and restaurants was the kind of informational content that might have encouraged the predominantly American audience to learn about different cultures and political systems. Products and artifacts, in other words, were decontextualized; the conditions from which they emerged were simplified for the American viewer.

The commercial slant of the fair was everywhere visualized. At the entrance to the American Express Pavilion—the first inside the grounds’ main gate—stood the Money Tree, a specimen of artificial timber sprouting $1 million worth of multinational banknotes for leaves. Further on one found the Hall of Free Enterprise, which taught visitors about the “principles and benefits of ’free competitive enterprise, properly regulated, unhampered by unwarranted interference.”10 In addition to such attractions as “Economics on Stage” (where an animated wire figure demonstrated the dilemma in which workers demand higher wages while consumers desire lower prices), “Money in Motion” (a wall panel in which “America’s corporate economy [came] to life”), and the revolving “Tree of Economic Life” (which charted principles of economic growth), the hall offered an accredited graduate seminar in economics. It was situated, interestingly enough, in the international area of the grounds, among the national pavilions. But then these installations too had adopted probusiness themes. The pavilion of socialist Sweden, for example, sponsored “by leading industries and businesses,” was a “testimonial to that nation’s private enterprise.”11 India’s pavilion used visual displays and recordings to show ”how this once backward nation is now able to manufacture such heavy items as aircraft engines, locomotives and automobiles, as well as producing goods for export and exploiting the peaceful possibilities of atomic energy.“12 And in the pavilion of the Republic of Korea, ”ancient art and folk dances“ were shown beside ”products for sale from . . . [the nation’s] rebuilt industries."13 These manufactured, usable goods may well have had as much claim as folk-art objects and dances to inclusion in an exhibition that aimed to represent a whole society. But in a context brought into being to promote the sale of such goods, all other manifestations of culture became exotic details, vehicles toward the commercial end. If third world nations such as Korea and India could take the opportunity to represent themselves to Western fairgoers (and investors) as politically and culturally independent and economically viable, they were also encouraged to define themselves by one common denominator: money.

The emphasis on commerce was enthusiastically encouraged by the Fair Corporation’s powerful president. Moses had taken control in May 1960, when he was 71, and when his illustrious career as New York’s master planner and builder was beginning to ebb. But years of appointments to key state-government positions, free of the hazards of election campaigns, had left him an enormous power base: few dared privately to challenge his ideas, and even fewer would defy him openly.14 As the creator of nearly 700 city parks, virtually all of the city’s expressways and parkways, many of its public pools, most of its large-scale housing projects, and such landmarks as Jones Beach, the Triborough Bridge, and the United Nations headquarters, he had a strong, more durable reputation with press and public than most of the elected officials who came and went during the decades of his tenure. To capitalize on the public esteem for Moses, the fair’s promoters centered much of the event’s publicity on him. Thus, in a procedure still familiar to us now, an event devoted to extending the concept of the global to include a spectrum of third world nations focused its public self-representations on a member of the white male ruling class. Actually, Moses had expressed his vision of the functioning of a world’s fair in an article he wrote for the Saturday Evening Post in 1938, discussing the then-upcoming exposition of 1939–40: “There may be no public announcement of it,” he remarked, “but the shows, the entertainments, the amusements, fun, food, drinks, and everything else that goes with a gigantic circus, are going to come out first . Business will run a close second. Culture, which is somehow associated with long walks and aching feet, will be third.”15 If this was what Moses believed, then the theme of ”peace through understanding" could only have been a cynical device.

Many of the pavilions were insensitive or outright racist. During a programmed 15-minute walk through the Coca-Cola pavilion, for example, visitors passed through “recreations of exotic places” such as India, Hong Kong, Cambodia, and Brazil-a compendium of travel-agency cliches that trivialized complex societies. As with Jean-Léon Gérôme’s lush 19th-century paintings of snake charmers and slave markets, these opulent tableaux now read as visual documents of “colonialist ideology, an iconic distillation of the Westerner’s notion of the Oriental couched in the language of a would-be transparent naturalism.”16 Some pavilions engaged in a more insidious kind of racism. The General Motors ”Futurama“ ride, for example, displayed new technologies to convert the world’s undeveloped land and resources to modern use, including a futuristic self-propelled road builder that mowed down rain-forest vegetation and animals, leaving an elevated superhighway in its wake. Postulating that the machine would bring ”a new way of life to an area that has long—and successfully—defied man’s attempts to develop its natural resources and take advantage of its climate and fertile soil,”17 the General Motors press release overlooked as if they were invisible the men and women who were already “taking advantage” of the forest environment—the tribal peoples who inhabit such regions, and who would be and have been put at risk by Western-style development.

Nowhere at the fair was racism more virulent than in the Pavilion of 2000 Tribes, run by the Wycliffe Bible Translators, an interdenominational missionary organization “devoted to sharing the Bible with minority groups . . . by translating it into their own unwritten languages.”18 The central feature of the pavilion was a 100-foot mural, accompanied by a recorded narrative and light and sound effects, depicting the ”impact of the Word of God“ in amending the ”murderous heart“ and ”hateful life“ of Peruvian jungle chief Tariri. (In keeping with the economic imperatives of the fair, a plea for funds was made after the mural was unveiled.19) In the extraordinary accompanying brochure—”From Savage to Citizen”—chief Tariri offers a personal testimony of his life before spiritual redemption: “I was an unhappy savage chief. I used to cut off heads at the shoulders, then cut down the back of the head for scalping. I loved to kill—I took many heads. We went on raids. We speared, we killed, we hated.” Then came Tariri’s conversion to Christianity at the hands of two Wycliffe translators, “helpless girls”: “After three years, I believed. Jesus overcame me. Christ came into my heart. The hatred went out. . . . I [had] believed on the witch doctor, the boa, the war spirit, and chanting. I have now left all these things because of God.” To prove the “primitivism” of the forest tribe by its supposed violence, of course, is to ignore the endemic violence of Western society, along with the fact that few cultures are beyond acting in self-defense against invaders. The blatancy of the racism here illuminates a crucial, ongoing issue in our dealings with Others: “good intentions,” assuming that the Wycliffe people were well-meaning, can prove utterly destructive when the vision from which they develop is thus constricted.

Given the continued tendency of Western historians to omit the voices of Others from the narratives they write, it is important to acknowledge that the nostalgia that often tempers writings about events like the fair necessarily marginalizes dissenting voices. An examination of dissent at the fair is in fact imperative to producing a more complete picture of both its audience and the people it alienated. When the World’s Fair opened, on April 22, 1964, the House of Representatives had recently passed the Civil Rights Act; a long filibuster stalled the bill in the Senate, but was eventually broken, and President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the legislation into law in early July. The exposition came, then, at a time when civil rights activists were sharpening and defining their strategies. Its racist manifestations were almost inevitably a target for protest, and the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) attempted a massive “stall-in” on its opening day. As James Farmer, CORE’s national director, explained shortly before his arrest on the grounds, the demonstrations were meant to highlight “the contrast between the [fair’s] glittering world of fantasy and the real world of brutality, bigotry and poverty.”20 Proposals included blocking traffic to the fair, picketing on the grounds (an action expressly forbidden by the corporation), and heckling President Johnson as he spoke at the Federal Pavilion. Though the large crowds necessary to block transportation routes failed to materialize, protesters were able to disrupt Johnson’s speech and to upset activities at other venues, including the pavilions of some of the more racially oppressive Southern states. Some 300 demonstrators were arrested. Perhaps because of this civil action (though also because of bad weather), the turnout on opening day was over 150,000 less than the corporation had expected. Mainstream political leaders and the press were largely hostile to the protests: U.S. News & World Report, in a characteristic article entitled ”What the Negroes Lost in New York,“ suggested that ”sabotage as a method of Negro protest“ had lead to a national decline of support for the civil rights movement. As part of its coverage of the stall-in, the magazine also printed congressional testimony by F.B.I. director J. Edgar Hoover on the infiltration of ”the Negro movement" by the Communist Party.21 Offering no rebuttal to Hoover’s statement, the report implicitly contributed to his campaign of fear—a campaign meant to discourage disenfranchised Americans from empowering themselves through civil disobedience.

Despite complaints from civil rights leaders, not a single black or Puerto Rican person served on the Fair Corporation’s administrative staff of 200. Few people of color, in fact, were employed at the fair in any capacity.22 Though mass transit was critical for an event expected to draw tens of thousands of people a day, Moses had vetoed a New York Transit Authority proposal to build a subway extension to the fair. Many of the city’s poor families do not have automobiles, and Moses biographer Robert Caro has suggested that the planner’s motives, as in many of his previous projects, were racist: the long-term status of Flushing Meadow Park was far more important to him than the short-term needs of the fair, and easy access to the park “was not desirable . . . [Moses) did not want his great parks to be open to low-income people, particularly the Negro and Puerto Rican people who made up so large a percentage of the city’s lower-income families.”23 Such inequities remind us that it was to white, middle-class Americans that the fair was addressed. “Despite its international theme, the Fair was in many ways a piece of white-bread America—religious, conservative, middle-class—plunked down in the heart of ethnic New York,” Morris Dickstein writes. "The whole enterprise was a throwback to a more homogeneous era in which blacks, like slums and other ’social problems,’ were kept out of sight and out of mind.”24

Yet if the fair’s suppression of racial, cultural, and economic differences was designed to make consumerism as comfortable as possible for its middle-class patrons, that goal is ultimately implicit in capitalism itself. In effect, the fair recreated what the German filmmaker Alexander Kluge has called the “pseudo-public sphere.” As Rosalyn Deutsche paraphrases Kluge,

Because economic gain, protected from public accountability by its seclusion within the private domain, actually depends on conditions that are publically provided, the bourgeois public sphere developed as a means by which private interests seek to control public activity. But since capitalism requires the preservation of the illusion that a well-defined boundary divides the public and private realms, the contradictions that gave birth to the public sphere are perpetuated and “reconciled” in its operations. Conflicts between groups are obfuscated by generalizing dominant interests as universal and by simultaneously privatizing experience. Homogenization of divergent concerns can, however, only be effected through exclusions: “A representative public sphere,” Kluge argues, "is representative insofar as it involves exclusions. . . . [It] only represents parts of reality, selectively and according to certain value systems.”25

The “peace through understanding” in the fair’s “pseudo-public sphere” could only temporarily conceal the ultimate reality that it was the interests of capital that bound these nations together. (The symbolism of national pavilions run by private enterprise is irresistible here.) As Kluge suggests, it is only through homogenization and exclusion that such a mirage of unity can occur: a communist country would not have looked right in Flushing Meadow in 1964, and neither would an unexoticized third world. Nor would working American women have looked right—the place of women was at Frigidaire’s Kitchen Idea Center, or at the “women only” Clairol Color Carousel. And the civil rights struggles and the counterculture that were beginning to emerge in the United States were utterly omitted from the fair’s picture of America, despite the organizers’ putative commitment to the allowance of difference. Thus do institutions insulate themselves from dissent at the same time that they appear to embrace it.

Though Moses called his exposition an "Olympics of Progress,”26 he did not want to acknowledge the future. The 1964–65 World’s Fair embraced a middle America of boy scouts and Arlington hats. (So puritanical was Moses that he was rumored to have personally censored risque costumes from the grounds, insisting that even the puppets in the “Poupées de Paris” show don brassieres.) This was an event crucially out of contact with the dramatic present, let alone suggesting the complex future. Yet the 1964–65 World’s Fair is important to whatever extent it brought Americans into contact with representations of other cultures, perhaps even for the first time. Furthermore, the fair reminds us of how little America has advanced in the past quarter century toward a general acceptance of difference, and illuminates the traps into which a Western institutional apparatus can fall when it attempts to make welcome a non-Western culture. Certain power dynamics appear to be built into the first world institutional frame; they may seem obvious to hindsight, but that is no guarantee that they are contained and sealed off in the past.

Maurice Berger is visiting assistant professor of contemporary art and critical theory at Hunter College. His book Labyrinths: Robert Morris, Minimalism, and the 1960s was published in August by Harper & Row.



1. See, for example, Edward W. Said’s “Yeats and Decolonization,” Janet Abu-Lughod’s “On The Remaking of History: How to Reinvent the Past,” Homi K. Bhabha’s “Remembering Fanon: Self, Psyche, and the Colonial Condition,” and Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak’s “Who Claims Alterity? ,”in Barbara Kruger and Phil Mariani, cds., Remaking History, Seattle: Bay Press, 1989; “The Global Issue: A Symposium” and “The Peripatetic Artist: 14 Statements,” in Art in America 77 no. 7, July 1989, pp. 86ff. and 130ff.; and Cynthia Schneider and Brian Wallis, eds. , Global Television, Cambridge, Mass., and London: MIT Press, 1989. “Magiciens de Ia terre,” organized by the Musée national d’art moderne, Paris, was reviewed in Artforum in September 1989.

2. New York City lost $24 million on the fair; bankers who had invested nearly $30 million had a return of only $10 million. Sec Robert A. Caro, The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York, New York: Alfred A . Knopf, 1974, pp. 1102–7 and 1112–13.

3. Indira Gandhi, “Speech on behalf of the International Participants at the Opening of the New York World’s Fair,” 22 April 1964.

4. See Sheldon J. Reaven, “New Frontiers: Science and Technology at the Fair,” in Remembering the Future: The New York World’s Fair from 1939 to 1964, New York: Rizzoli, 1989, p. 76. I would like to thank Robert Janjigian of Rizzoli International Publications for supplying me with page proofs of this book.

5. See John Brooks, “Diplomacy at Flushing Meadow,” The New Yorker 39 no. 15, 1 June 1963 , p. 41, and Caro, The Power Broker, pp. 1093-94.

6. See Benjamin H. D. Buchloh, “The Whole Earth Show: An Interview with Jean-Hubert Martin,” Art in America 77 no. 5, May 1989, pp. 150–58 and 211–13.

7. Julius Edelstein, a New York City executive assistant to the mayor in 1964, remarks, “Moses had never been involved with foreign policy; now he was overlord of something that touched on the fringes of foreign policy . . . Moses was really all powerful. His values were free enterprise; he had no concern for people going hungry.” Interview with the author, New York , 18 July 1989. For more on the fair’s foreign policy initiatives see Brooks, “Diplomacy at Flushing Meadow,” and the U.S. Congress House Committee on Foreign Affairs, “Hearing before the Subcommittee on International Organizations and Movements of the Committee on Foreign Affairs, House of Representatives, Eighty-Seventh Congress, first session, on H.R. 7763, and other bills, to provide for planning the participation of the United Slates in the New York World’s Fair to be held in New York City in 1964 and 1965, and for other purposes,” 10 August 1961, Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1961.

8. See Reaven, pp. 93–96.

9. On the relationship between commodity and entertainment the filmmaker Alexander Kluge has written, “In order to cheat spectators on an entrepreneurial scale, the entrepreneurs have to designate the spectators themselves as entrepreneurs. The spectator must sit in the movie house or in front of the TV set like a commodity owner: like a miser grasping every detail and collecting surplus on everything which has any value. Value per se. So uneasy this spectator-consumer, alienated from his own life so completely like the manager of a supermarket or department store who—even at the price of death (heart attack)—will not stop accumulating the last scraps of marketable goods in the storeroom so that they may find their buyers.” See Alexander Kluge, “On Film and the Public Sphere,” New German Critique nos. 24–25, Fall/ Winter 1981–82, p. 210.

10. Official Guide: New York World’s Fair, 1964–65, New York: Time-Life Books, 1964, pp. 151–52.

11. Ibid., p. 148.

12. Ibid., p. 127.

13. Ibid., p. 128.

14. Moses’ conduct of the fair substantially damaged his reputation, opening him to attack from former supporters in the press. See Caro, pp. 1091–95; Moses, The Fair, The City and The Critics, Flushing, New York: New York World’s Fair 1964–65 Corporation, 1964, pp. 2–3; Vincent J. Scully, Jr., “If This Is Architecture, God Help Us,” Life 57 no. 5, 31 July 1964, p. 9; Richard J. Whalen, “A City Destroying Itself,” Fortune 70 no. 3, September 1964, pp. 115–21, 231–36, and 241–45; and Roberta Strauss Feuerlicht, “God and Man at Flushing Meadow,” The Reporter 31 no. 3, 13 August 1964, pp. 54–56.

15. Moses, quoted in Marc Miller, “Something for Everyone,” in Remembering the Future, p. 71. As New York City parks commissioner in the late ’30s, Moses had been marginally involved in the planning of the 1939–40 World’s Fair.

16. Linda Nochlin , “The Imaginary Orient,” Art in America 71 no. 5, May 1983, p. 119. Sec also Edward Said, Orientalism, New York; Vintage Books, 1979.

17. The release is quoted in Morris Dickstein, “From the Thirties to the Sixties: The World’s Fair in its Own Time,” in Remembering the Future, p. 30.

18. “From Savage to Citizen,” Santa Ana, Ca.: Wycliffe Bible Translators, 1964, n.p. Brochure published for the 1964–65 New York World’s Fair, in the fair archives at the Queens Museum, Flushing, New York City. I would like to thank Ileen Sheppard, director of exhibitions at the Queens Museum, for her generous assistance in securing archive material for this essay.

19. For more on the Wycliffe pavilion see Feuerlicht, p. 56.

20. James Farmer, quoted in “Fair Opens, Rights Stall-In Fails,” The New York Times, 23 April 1964, p. 26.

21. “J . Edgar Hoover Speaks Our on Reds in the Negro Movement,” U.S. News & World Report 56 no. 18, 4 May 1964, p. 33.

22. See Caro, p. 1101.

23. Ibid. , p. 1086–87n. For more on Moses’ plans to turn Flushing Meadow Park into “one oft he very great municipal parks of our country,” see Moses, The Saga of Flushing Meadow, souvenir booklet, published for the Flushing Meadows–Corona Park Public Ceremonies, 3 June 1967, pp. 7–24.

24. Dickstein, p. 34.

25. Rosalyn Deutsche, “Uneven Development: Public Art in New York City,” October no. 47, Winter 1988, pp. 11–12. For Kluge’s argument itself sec Kluge, pp. 212–14. T J . Clark has discussed the concept of a homogenizing public “spectacle” in relation to the Paris Universal Exposition of 1867, in Clark, The Painting of Modern Life: Paris in the Art of Monet and His Followers, New York : Alfred A. Knopf, 1984, pp. 60–66.

26. Moses, in his public remarks at the opening ceremonies of the fair, 22 April 1964.