The Art Angle Podcast: How Lucy Lippard and a Band of Artists Fought U.S. Imperialism
This week, the genesis and legacy of the Artists’ Call Against U.S. Intervention in Central America.
Welcome to the Art Angle, a podcast from Artnet News that delves into the places where the art world meets the real world, bringing each week’s biggest story down to earth. Join us every week for an in-depth look at what matters most in museums, the art market, and much more with input from our own writers and editors, as well as artists, curators, and other top experts in the field.
If you were out and about in 1984, you might have noticed a striking poster wheatpasted everywhere. It featured two heroic silhouettes pulling down a statue, clearly avatars of the People topping the icon of a hated political dictator. But instead of a statue of a man in uniform, they were bringing down an image of a huge banana.
If you were an art fan you might also recognize the signature of Claes Oldenburg, one of the most famous Pop artists. But whereas Oldenburg was best known for playful, giant-sized sculptures of everyday objects, this giant banana had a clear and outspoken message of political solidarity: the term “banana republic” comes from the bad governments of Central America that the U.S. propped up at the behest of its fruit corporations. And the U.S. was once again intervening in Central America.
Oldenburg’s memorable lithograph was one image associated with the “Artists’ Call Against U.S. Intervention in Central America.” And it is one of a huge number of artworks and artifacts relating to this intense early-’80s moment of artist organizing that have just gone on view at Tufts University Art Galleries in the show “Art for the Future: Artists Call and Central American Solidarities.”
The ’80s are remembered as a time of political conservatism and yuppie excess. But it was also the height of the late Cold War machinations. The Ronald Reagan administration’s backing of death squads and repression of left-wing movements in places like Nicaragua and El Salvador is one of its darkest chapters. A robust Central American solidarity movement across the United States in the early ’80s organized to defend refugees and decry the U.S.’s backing of the brutality.
The Artists Call was inspired and in dialogue with this wave of public activity, an attempt to use art’s clout to raise money and to reach an influential public. Involving figures including the Salvadoran poet and exile Daniel Flores y Ascencio, the curator and artist Coosje van Breuggen, and the famed art critic Lucy Lippard, the Artists Call was an organizing network that brought together, as Lippard remembers, “young and old, Latin, Central, and North American, lefties and liberals, artists working in a broad spectrum of styles.” Emerging from the discussions around a show by the art collective Group Material dedicated to Central American activism in 1982, the Artists’ Call would ultimately inspire participation from thousands of artists, including Vito Acconci, Louise Bourgeois, Sol LeWitt, Donald Judd, Ana Mendieta, and Cecilia Vicuña.
Yet despite the high-profile names it rallied and the recent interest in historical models of artist activism, the Artists’ Call has been little remembered until now. On this week’s episode, Ben Davis, Artnet News’s chief art critic, had the chance to talk about the Artists Call with the curators of “Art for the Future”: Erina Duganne and Abigail Satinsky, as well as Lucy Lippard herself.
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