“40 Years Later, America Is Studying War Once More” / The New York Times / Holland Cotter / September 11, 2005

Americans, heavy sleepers that they are, are waking up to the news that 2005 is looking a lot like 1965. The art world has been snoozing along with everyone else, which is not to say the 1960's haven't been on its mind. Far-out little objects abound, the equivalents of macramé and tie-dye but with a noncountercultural art school pedigree. That flower power grew from toxic fields in Vietnam hasn't had much mention. That was 40 years ago. Ancient history. Bad dream.

But there's a faint glow of historical consciousness-raising on the horizon. That is surely the description for "Persistent Vestiges: Drawings From the American-Vietnam War," which opens at the Drawing Center in SoHo on Nov. 5. The show will focus on a pair of America's major political artists, Nancy Spero (born in 1926) and Martha Rosler (born in 1945). Both produced sustained, scathing but very different visual responses to the Vietnam War, and that work appears in depth here.

They will be joined by six North Vietnamese artists who made documentary drawings on the front lines during the war. And a younger artist with an international reputation, Dinh Q. Le, brings the show into the present. Born in South Vietnam in 1968, he came to the United States in 1978 and now lives and works in a tourist-friendly Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon).

Mr. Le will also have a solo show at the Asia Society in Manhattan, opening on Tuesday. He is best known for the pictures collectively titled "From Vietnam to Hollywood" (2000) and installations in which he considers how the war he experienced as a child continues to blight the present, specifically pointing to the birth defects that some studies suggest resulted from the wartime use of Agent Orange.

The impact of that war is graphically detailed in pictures by the veteran Magnum photographer Philip Jones Griffiths in a career survey at Denise Bibro Fine Art Gallery in Chelsea through Oct. 1. For half a century, Mr. Griffith has been placing himself squarely in harm's way for the express purpose, it would seem, of stripping military violence of any trace of sugarcoating that politicians apply to it. His photographic account of a lacerating war that simultaneously devastated Southeast Asia and deeply divided the United States amounts to one of the great tragic portraits of its time and is required viewing in ours.

Which brings us to the current war. At least a few younger artists are paying attention to it, among them the New York-based painter Steve Mumford, who made four trips to Iraq in 2003 and 2004 as an embedded artist with American troops. There he recorded what he saw in a steady stream of watercolors, which he posted on the Internet as "Baghdad Journal."

A show of Mr. Mumford's paintings makes its debut at the Meadows Museum of Fine Arts in Dallas starting Oct. 6. (A handful of them were also included in "Greater New York 2005.") Technically, I guess, they are reportage. But they might also be regarded as examples of history painting. That venerable genre was overtaken by photography more than a century ago, but, expansively redefined, it is still being practiced by some of the best artists we have. It is an art of actuality and imagination, of witness and disbelief. It's a morning art, an art for a wide-awake year.

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