Canvases on a Bonfire

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.

. . . 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.

—Jan van der Marck’s exhibition catalogue essay

News release for Violence in Recent American Art, Oct 1968

© MCA Chicago

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.”

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

© MCA Chicago

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

© MCA Chicago
Aged and yellowed newsprint with reproductions of two artworks: Roy Lichtenstein's *Pistol*, 1964, on the lower left; and Andy Warhol's *Elvis II*, 1964, on the upper right.

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

© MCA Chicago
Scan of aged and yellowed news print with printed artworks, top center Ralph Arnold's *Unfinished Collage*, 1968 (detail), bottom left Ray Johnson's *Do Not Kill*, 1966 and bottom right Clayton Pinkerton's *Untitled,* 1968.

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

© MCA Chicago
Scan of aged and yellowed news print with printed artworks, top photograph of Andy Warhol's *Race Riot,*1963 and bottom of Peter Holbrook's *Battle of Grant Park*, 1968.

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

© MCA Chicago
Aged newsprint lists artworks included in the exhibition, *Violence in Recent American Art*.

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

© MCA Chicago