Support the Whitney
Become a founding member today.Join now
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.