Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Q. And babies? A. And babies.

Artist's Poster Committee of Art Workers Coalition
Q. And babies? A. And babies. 
New York City, USA: Self-published, 1970
63.5 x 96.5 cm.
Edition size unknown

One of the most enduring images from the Art Workers' Coalition (see previous post) is their iconic anti-Vietnam War poster And Babies. It features the now infamous My Lai Massacre picture taken by combat photographer Ronald L. Haeberle on March 16, 1968, and first published in Life magazine in December of 1969.

The text, in an enlarged, distressed font, comes from a Mike Wallace CBS News interview with a US Soldier named Paul Meadlo, who participated in the massacre:

Q. So you fired something like sixty-seven shots?
A. Right.
Q. And you killed how many? At that time?
A. Well, I fired them automatic, so you can’t- You just spray the area on them and so you can’t know how many you killed ‘cause they were going fast. So I might have killed ten or fifteen of them.
Q. Men, women, and children?
A. Men, women, and children.
Q. And babies?
A. And babies.

It has been estimated that over 500 unarmed civilians were killed - some raped, tortured and mutilated before their deaths - as part of the March massacre in South Viet Nam. The massacre caused global outrage when it became public knowledge in November of 1969. Eventually twenty-six US soldiers were charged with criminal offenses, but only one was convicted. Despite being found guilty of killing 22 villagers, he served only three and a half years under house arrest.

The poster was produced by AWC and GAAG members Frazer Dougherty, Jon Hendricks and Irving Petlin, along with Museum of Modern Art members Arthur Drexler and Elizabeth Shaw. Unexpectedly, the MoMA had agreed to fund and circulate the poster, but it was eventually vetoed by the president of the Board of Trustees, William S. Paley (chief executive office of the CBS radio and television networks). He and fellow board member Nelson Rockefeller were both "firm supporters" of the war and had backed the Nixon administration.* Paley reportedly "hit the ceiling" when he saw the poster proofs. Funding was cancelled and the MoMA's press release stated that the project was outside the "function" of the museum, which could not take a position on any matter not directly related to a specific function of the institution.

"We picketed and protested in front of Guernica, published 50,000 posters on our own and distributed them, free, via an informal network of artists and movement people; it has turned up all over the world," wrote AWC member Lucy Lippard in November of 1970. The poster image was broadcast on television and reprinted in newspapers, as well as carried in protest marches around the globe.

The AWC press release stated "Practically, the outcome is as planned: an artist-sponsored poster protesting the My-Lai massacre will receive vast distribution. But the Museum's unprecedented decision to make known, as an institution, its commitment to humanity, has been denied it."

Shortly afterwards, the poster was included in two major MoMA exhibitions: Kynaston McShine's 1970 exhibition of conceptual art, Information; and Betsy Jones' The Artist as Adversary in 1971.
The work is included in the gallery's permanent collection.

* In the years that followed Paley would shorten a second instalment of a two-part CBS Evening News series on the Watergate, based on a request by Charles Colson, an aide to President Richard M. Nixon, and order the suspension of a critical analyses by CBS news commentators following Presidential addresses.

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