It is true that several innocuous and honorable companies had been enlisted into the program. And artists are hardly exceptionable, no more than the rest of us, in being entangled in a thousand everyday complicities with the destructiveness of the American war machine. But there exists a huge difference, that does not require a fine measure, between those involuntary dependencies that will endure short of total boycott or revolution, and active, knowing connivance, freely entered into without pressure or need. By refusing the overture of the Los Angeles County museum, the artist would surely not have engaged in any move of political impact. But he would have added his voice to the growing constituency of dissent. He would serve notice that he could no longer be considered a dupe or a lackey.
It is amazing to recall that the museum’s policy was to hide nothing from the artists, and that as late as the decision to boost the whole affair by opening it prematurely at Osaka’s Expo 70, when everything was practically guaranteed to go on the blink, the participants did not withdraw, even though their work would be seen maximum disadvantage. And if it was not too much to expect them to heed their own interests as artists, they were surely insensitive to the crassness with which they were exploited as enthusiasts of American economic imperialism in an international setting. The world was there to see that the American government and industry were perhaps somewhat benign after all, since American artists, members of the intelligentsia, were displaying their knickknacks under official auspices.
The aftermath of this muddle is still in progress. The curator who hopefully hatched it, and catalyzed it with such dazzling energy, has obviously reached the apex of his career, and is being carried upward with very pleasant notices in the press. As for the museum, which for four years ignored the majority of the young, struggling, and talented artists in its own region in favor of pursuing benefices from industry, I only hope it can avoid the poetic fate of going into receivership. The artists, finally, seem woozy, disenchanted with their star system, balking at every little thing. A new generation of them has a bad taste in its mouth.
Ultimately, the Report seems to me like a microcosmic analogue of these recent disclosures about American foreign policy in the Vietnam war – the Pentagon Papers. Both documents offer a candid history of bad faith and mutual deceit, of deepening mistakes and misunderstandings, and, above all, a collision of cultures. They reveal how an organization tried to weld together an alliance between incompatible peoples with radically different interests for the purpose of colonizing a new territory. The theme that runs through the two publications is an impulse to expand the market of American technology, to engage its ever more cancerous resources, despite whatever effect this may have on the quality of human life or the ideals of political liberty. These annals of corporate overkill offer all the excitement of truly indecent reading matter. In them is shown how men lose sight of a rational link between available means and ends, and how they substituted for it a grandiose, self-serving vision which moved towards a failure of credibility, gratuitous waste, the abuse of power, and the collapse of the original effort itself, under the weight of its own misconception.