New York

“The Anti-WW3 Internationalist Art Show”

Parsons The New School for Design

The alternative art of the early ’70s may have been profoundly alienated, but, as the title of Acconci’s Leeway suggests, the freedom to be detached, eccentric (“out of the center”), was never questioned. The “Anti-WW3 Internationalist Art Show,” a display of 2000 works (mainly posters, some poems) from 45 countries, argues not only that the option to be marginal is now less available, but also that it is dangerous, for two reasons: idiosyncrasy will not be tolerated by those in power, and is not useful to those out of power. This show opines that when war is imminent, the proper mood is imperative, the proper orientation is present/future, and the proper belief is that actions can be completed (i.e., process is not all).

The rhetoric of resistance and revolution is borrowed, of course, from the state. A phrase like “If You Love Your Car, Die For It” cops its exhortatory tone from such slogans as “Uncle Sam Wants You.” Sometimes agitprop uses the titillation of depicted violence to deplore violence; happily, this is not often the case here. But that doesn’t mean that these artists don’t fight fire with fire. They have taken over the means of (mass) reproduction—the medium here is mainly photocopy—and in general have divested popular culture of its opiate powers (it isn’t religion that’s the drug anymore). When beloved characters such as Charlie Brown or Dagwood Bumstead tell you cheerfully that Jimmy Carter lied, as they do on some “no-nukes” gummed stamps, it’s as startling as a fistfight between members of the same family.

There are harangues, deserved, against regimes, but the cannier contributions are those that portray the enemy as us—not U.S., but you and me. One broadside makes an almost causal connection between junk food and war: presiding over a scene of battle wreckage, over wounded and exhausted soldiers, is a serenely unscathed McDonald’s. Is it the prize or the puppeteer in this theater of war? McDonald’s invasions of neighborhoods and of foreign capitals are allegories for colonialization of an ideological sort, the kind that offers to exchange an indigenous way of life for the “good life.” The catch is that we like it. Another montage featuring a man caught in a mousetrap baited with Cokes and hero sandwiches could well be accompanied by a panel in which he sets the trap himself.

That questions like this are raised makes tenable the claim that propaganda need not be impersonal. In fact, the very tradition of political surrealism as practiced in the collages here requires skill in knowing how to set the domestic, private, sometimes even dream image into a matrix of extremely public or commercial signs. There are rare moments in “Anti-WW3” though, when personal viewpoints collide. The most striking instance: support for the present Iranian government stands out in the midst of scattered expressions of feminist solidarity.

Ultimately, only one entry here points out the truly inevitable nexus of machismo and war. In Salute the Duke Week, John Wayne, Mr. True Grit himself, stands grinning in front of a row of women giving the fascist salute under an ad for the army. Along with its witting and witty warnings, one of the unwitting messages that this show gets across is that the most resisted changes are still gender-charged, the most threatening politics still sexual.

Jeanne Silverthorne