By Alan Bisbort for CTNOW
While we ponder the recent sesquicentennial of the Civil War’s end, another conflict’s anniversary looms. This one nearly touched off a second civil war — on American college campuses, in the streets and on The Mall in Washington, D.C.
That conflict, the so-called Vietnam War, ended on April 30, 1975, when a helicopter landed on the roof of the U.S. Embassy in Saigon to remove the remaining American personnel and leave desperate civilians clinging to the ascending chopper’s landing gear. That conflict, never an officially declared war, was an 11-year experiment in “anti-communism” by the U.S. Congress, which unanimously passed the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution in August 1964, and the President (Johnson, then Nixon), who was given carte blanche by the resolution.
That uncivil war is the backdrop to “Remembering the Vietnam War,” a provocative, if limited, exhibition at the William Benton Museum at UConn-Storrs. Because the Benton is a museum of art, the objects on view are protest posters, photographs, handbills, original paintings and photomontages inspired by the dissent that roiled the nation and saw a sitting president react with seeming indifference to the death of four college students at Kent State University and pardon the man responsible for the massacre of 500 unarmed Vietnamese civilians at My Lai.
“Remembering the Vietnam War” is dominated by artists, or art collectives, that did not sign their work. In fact, the most effective work here is anonymous: “America Eats Her Young” (a black-and-white silkscreen that riffs on Goya’s horrific “Saturn Devouring His Young”); “Stop the War” (riffing on Picasso’s “Guernica”); “American Gothic” (a satire using Grant Wood’s iconic painting); “Johnson’s Johnson” (a creepy drawing of an LBJ statue with no genitals); “Four More Years?” (which uses a photograph from My Lai to make its gory point). Most of these artifacts are taken from UConn’s stellar Poras Collection of Vietnam War Memorabilia.