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GRAPHIC DETAILS : The ART of WAR : An exhibit of Vietnam War posters recalls one of printed propaganda's final flourishes

February 04, 1996|Kristine McKenna

Does a civilization ever stop sifting through the records of its wars, searching for some moral high ground in killing? It seems not, and no war abraded America's conscience as relentlessly as Vietnam. As can be seen in "Decade of Protest: Political Posters From the United States, Vietnam and Cuba," at the Track 16 Gallery in Santa Monica through March 9, it was a war that united the Vietnamese as much as it divided Americans.

Produced between 1965 and 1975, the 120 posters in the show diverge wildly in terms of aesthetics. In the U.S., the absence of official pro-war propaganda left the field to images by anonymous individuals and collectives participating in the anti-war counterculture, who employed sophisticated visual techniques popularized by advertising. By contrast, the Vietnamese and Cuban posters incorporate elements of folk art and social realism, always bear an artist's signature and were largely government sponsored. Souvenirs of the moment when America's myth of itself was shattered, the posters of all three countries are infused with a belief in the power of public protest that seems touchingly idealistic today.

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