Blog: MCA DNA

Canvases on a Bonfire

By Lisa Meyerowitz

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on violence in recent American art

Recent events and the persistent cycles of violence render me mute. Like many people, I wonder how and when will things change?

In 1968, the MCA’s second year, the museum mounted Violence in Recent American Art. The exhibition tackled the topic head on. Its relevance today is unnerving. Spearheaded by guest curator Robert Glauber, the exhibition addressed the climate of violence in the wake of the Democratic National Convention; the war in Vietnam; the assassinations of John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King Jr., and Robert Kennedy; as well as riots and counter protests across the United States. Glauber assembled an impressive roster of artists and artworks, identifying five types of violence: war, racial, personal, gun, and psychological.

The press release is an extraordinary statement about the responsibility of artists to confront current events. It could be issued today—with pertinent observations about how the art world can speak out, affect change, and understand the effects of violence on our culture.

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. . . in Los Angeles painters threw their canvases on a bonfire [as] a poignant protest. . . . the loss of works of art [was] far less important than the loss of human lives.

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News release for Violence in Recent American Art, Oct 1968 © MCA Chicago

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News release for Violence in Recent American Art, Oct 1968 © MCA Chicago

on the exhibition catalogue

Meanwhile, the exhibition catalogue, a 16-page broadside printed on newsprint, was sold for 10 cents a copy. The cover features a collage of newspaper headlines detailing homicides and uprisings across the country, followed by an impassioned foreword by MCA Director Jan van der Marck, who describes an artists’ demonstration in Los Angeles a few years prior, when “painters threw their canvases on a bonfire, a poignant protest of senseless napalm burning in Vietnam.” He continues, “To these artists, the loss of works of art is far less important than the loss of human lives.”

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Cover of exhibition catalogue, Violence in Recent American Art, MCA Chicago, Nov 8, 1968–Jan 12, 1969 © MCA Chicago

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Exhibition catalogue, Violence in Recent American Art, p. 2, MCA Chicago, Nov 8, 1968–Jan 12, 1969 © MCA Chicago

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Exhibition catalogue, Violence in Recent American Art, p. 3, MCA Chicago, Nov 8, 1968–Jan 12, 1969 © MCA Chicago

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Exhibition catalogue, Violence in Recent American Art, p. 8, MCA Chicago, Nov 8, 1968–Jan 12, 1969 © MCA Chicago

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Exhibition catalogue, Violence in Recent American Art, p. 10, MCA Chicago, Nov 8, 1968–Jan 12, 1969 © MCA Chicago

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Exhibition catalogue, Violence in Recent American Art, p. 16, MCA Chicago, Nov 8, 1968–Jan 12, 1969 © MCA Chicago