There was nothing left, when the show was finally installed, but to catalog a list of dismal surprises. The laser beams of Krebs, the strobes of Mefferd, and the mirror projections of Robert Whitman were as imaginatively pointless as they were physically disembodied. And if the availability of new hardware was to invoke any change in esthetic kind, this had not been proved by the characteristic efforts of Richard Serra, Tony Smith, or Jesse Reichek. As for Newton Harrison’s rather lovely columnar plastic tubes, radiating color glows electronically discharged from various gases, they gave rare refreshment in the circusy surroundings. Among the others on the roster, derision ruled. Rauschenberg’s tank of flatulent mud vindicated Teledyne’s sporting spirit. Kitaj appears to have enjoyed himself by using Lockheed’s Burbank facilities to produce a kind of 19th century museum of industrial memorabilia . Fahlstrom’s “Meatball Curtain” metallized imagery from Zap Comix. Andy Warhol’s 3D photographs of daisies, seen through the illuminated squirtings of a rain machine, demonstrated a certain frivolity. There was a certain pleasure to be derived from the thought of the thousands of work hours and dollars expended on these fey and whimsical contraptions. For here the artists wriggled free from their highfalutin methodology by demeaning it. Little enough can be said for the intrinsic qualities of their work; but some credit must be given to its malice. The way the museum installed it, highlighted in hallowed, darkened sanctuaries, approached the ecstatic.
But such ironies were small retaliation for a larger defeat. The show unfolds a bankruptcy of character which time, if nothing else, had inflicted on ‘60s art. The show was conceived in 1967 and belongs to its decade even though it was terminated only last summer, 1971. As a monstrously inflated event, it resembled that other white elephant, Henry Geldzahler’s “New York Painting and Sculpture: 1940-1970” at the Metropolitan, with the difference that having far less merit, it went further in unconscious celebration of the demise of the avant-garde tradition. In 1967, the American economy could be superficially represented by the term, “all systems go,” for the big corporations enjoying a surge of barely challenged optimism and confidence. In 1971, unemployment, recession and inflation had so decimated the economic prospects of the masses, including those in the Californian aerospace industry, that even the most rabid conservatives realized that capitalism was suffering a possibly mortal disease. It was then that the art world mounted an enterprise, actually outdated even before it began, designed to congratulate us on our technical prowess and rosy future. Nor was its general foolishness allayed by having been suffused by the quack theories of Fuller, McLuhan and Cage, the gurus of the 60s far-out.
An even more important deficit arises from the political implications of the project. Tuchman writes: “I had expected resistance from artists . . . on ‘moral’ grounds – opposition, that is, to collaborating in any way with the temples of Capitalism, or, more particularly, with militarily involved industry.” Aside from the significant omission of what he himself felt about instigating that collaboration, the fact remains that only one of the artists he approached, Peter Voulkos, objected to it. Now, as he had to admit, most would. Some of the companies involved by the museum are as follows (quotes are from the Report itself): the Garrett Corporation (“has been designing high-performance jet engines for military aircraft”); General Electric (“has its own think tank, called TEMPO, which runs seminars on nuclear weapons”); Hewlett-Packard Company (“radar, guided-missile control”); Jet Propulsion Laboratory; Litton Industries (“builds submarines, amphibious assault ships, and advanced guidance and fire control systems”); Lockhead Norris Industries (“a major ordnance manufacturer since World War II”); North American Rockwell, and The Rand Corporation. In short, it is a rogue’s gallery of the violence industries. Subsidized decisively by the American government, they had grown to their present bulk through the business of slaying. The show epitomizes the fact that our most prominent visual artists had been offered an extremely direct contract to be of service to the prestige of these industries (in return for various hard and software) and had accepted. During the term of the project, there occurred the My Lai massacre, the Chicago Democratic Convention riots, the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy, the invasion of Cambodia, and the student killings at Kent and Jackson State. While these convulsions were taking place, inflaming the radicalism of our youth and polarizing the country, the American artists did not hesitate to freeload at the trough of that techno-fascism that had inspired them.