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Peter Saul, Saigon, 1967  69.103
Peter Saul, Saigon, 1967. Enamel, oil, and synthetic polymer on canvas, 92 3/4 × 142 in. (235.6 × 360.7 cm). Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; purchase with funds from the Friends of the Whitney Museum of American Art  69.103 For Teachers

about this work

At first glance, the Day-Glo palette, lively composition, and exaggerated figures of Peter Saul’s Saigon seem cartoon-like, even whimsical. But the painting offers a biting critique of American policy during the Vietnam War. In a war-torn environment that includes uprooted palm trees, a river of blood, and a spiked American bomb, Saul depicts a voluptuous Vietnamese girl who has been trussed and labeled “Innocent Virgin.” A couple of American GIs are shown drinking Coca-Cola as they rape, dismember, and torture the girl’s family. The chaos is heightened by Saul’s rendering of the figures, including a headless, three-star officer in blue, two blasted Vietcong guerillas, and a nightmarish profusion of body parts. In the canvas’s lower corners, old-fashioned Oriental-style letters spell out “White Boys Torturing and Raping the People of Saigon: High Class Version”—emphasizing Saul’s condemnation of the war’s hypocrisies.

 

Video

Peter Saul, Saigon, 1967

In this video, artist Peter Saul discusses his process, the Vietnam War, and his painting Saigon (1967), included in the exhibition Sinister Pop (November 15, 2012 – March 31, 2013).

look closer

Describe what you see in this painting.

What do you think is happening here?

What kinds of colors does the artist use? What mood do they evoke?

What kinds of stereotypes does Peter Saul show?

Activities

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Peter Saul, Saigon, 1967  69.103 For Teachers

Peter Saul created Saigon in response to the atrocities of the Vietnam War; a war that he and many other Americans felt was unjustified. Using exaggerated, almost cartoonish imagery, Saul depicts the stereotypes and violence that consumed this era of American history. What are some of the stereotypes that Saul portrays? Why might he have included them in this painting?

In 2008, New York Times art critic Holland Cotter described Saul as “one of our few important practicing history painters.” After looking at this painting, discuss the quote with your students. What does it mean to be a history painter? How has Saul tried to capture that era of our history? Is he successful? Why or why not?

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