Images that endure
I wanted to thank Mark Feeney for the wonderful review of the Currier Museum’s “Visual Dispatches From the Vietnam War” exhibition (“The cameras they carried,” SundayArts, Aug. 11).
My interest in the exhibition is more than casual: I was on the advisory board. I remember the suggestions given to me by my veteran buddies before attending the Currier meetings: “Just make sure they attempt a balanced exhibition.” I think Feeney’s piece on the event showed that it’s a very ambitious exhibit that shows these journalistic photographs as works of art in their own right. (Pictured: detail of Don McCullin’s “Wounded Soldier against Wall, Vietnam.”)
But getting to that balance took some discussion. And it resulted in the background videos that showed the context of some of the more incendiary photographs. The fear by veteran groups was that any Vietnam exhibition is going to make the vets look, yet again, like baby killers or drug addicts; the Currier avoided that successfully.
It’s been a tough image to shed: I had a Fulbright scholarship after college to do graduate work in Berlin, but because I was 1A I couldn’t get a passport in 1969. I was in the first lottery and got number 71; I was drafted on March 11, 1970. I ended up in artillery intelligence, which in 1970 was a guaranteed tour in Vietnam. When I got out in 1971, highly decorated and relatively sane, I reobtained the Fulbright to get a master’s and then went to Harvard to get a PhD. Despite these achievements, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been asked over the years how many people I killed in combat or whether I might have come back with a drug problem.
Featuring such a show on Vietnam images is a slippery slope: The state of New Hampshire had loaned the exhibit its 50th anniversary Vietnam commemorative flag, but then just before the opening “unloaned” it. I called the two-star general who made the decision, and he said he had gotten calls from New Hampshire veterans who were “180 degrees out,” as he put it, from what the exhibit was doing. I commented that to me this was just one more way the true Vietnam vet is disrespected in society, now and then. And it shows that even with the best of intentions, it’s hard to please everyone.
Was that really necessary?
The review of “The Act of Killing” (“The reckoning,” g, Aug. 2) was fantastic. I appreciate the time and effort that went into writing it. I do take issue with one sentence, though: “This is no glamorized self-portrait staring out from the cover of Rolling Stone.”
I was enmeshed in Janice Page’s characterization of the film until I reached that sentence, which immediately made me question the accuracy of her reporting. Promoting that particular non-troversy changed my perception completely. As has been very well-documented in the wake of the ridiculous, blathering media attack on Rolling Stone, that photo was the photo used by almost every major media outlet in the country after the bombing. While Rolling Stone had to modify the photo’s size to fit the shape of its cover, they did nothing to “glamorize” it.
Please stop playing into the hands of those who gin up and spew fake controversies in order to distract from real news.
Think small, art donors
“Beastie Boy’s Mom gives Worcester museum ‘high-level painting’”(Names, Aug. 15) is a very encouraging story about something that more donors and art collectors should do.
Most of the time, donors give their artwork to the big museums: the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of Fine Arts, the Museum of Modern Art, and so on. And what is the result? There is a lot of fanfare, and then the big museums nearly always put much, most, or even all of these artworks into storage. They already have far, far more than they ever could display.
If you are lucky enough to own a Monet and would like to donate it to a museum, you could give it to the MFA. They will thank you. Instead of having 55 Monets — I think that’s roughly the number — the MFA then will own 56.
Or you could give your Monet to a respected but small regional, college or university museum, which will make your donation a prime exhibit and attraction. It will be on display all the time.
Posted on BostonGlobe.com