Up Against the Real. Black Mask from Art to Action
With Up Against the Real, Nadja Millner-Larsen offers the first comprehensive study of the group Black Mask and its acrimonious relationship to the New York art world of the 1960s. Cited as pioneers of now-common protest aesthetics, the group’s members employed incendiary modes of direct action against racism, colonialism, and the museum system. They shut down the Museum of Modern Art, fired blanks during a poetry reading, stormed the Pentagon in an antiwar protest, sprayed cow’s blood at the secretary of state, and dumped garbage into the fountain at Lincoln Center. Black Mask published a Dadaist broadside until 1968, when it changed its name to Up Against the Wall Motherfucker (after line in a poem by Amiri Baraka) and came to classify itself as “a street gang with analysis.” American activist Abbie Hoffman described the group as “the middle-class nightmare . . . an anti-media phenomenon simply because their name could not be printed.”
Up Against the Real examines how and why the group ultimately rejected art in favor of what its members deemed “real” political action. Exploring this notorious example of cultural activism that rose from the ruins of the avant-garde, Millner-Larsen makes a critical intervention in our understanding of political art.