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.