Don’t “get” modern art? Apparently none of us do, because while we were off contemplating Jackson Pollack’s splatter paintings in the Museum of Modern Art, the Central Intelligence Agency was using Pollack and his pals as “weapons” during the Cold War. A new report reveals that the CIA promoted American Abstract Expressionist painting around the world in order to show that American art was more creative than art produced under Communist Russian rule.
Cue your deepest conspiracy theory rant.
The CIA pushed modern artists like Pollack, Robert Motherwell, Willem de Kooning (whose work Woman V is pictured) and Mark Rothko on what it termed its “long leash” program — meaning it was done all without the artists themselves knowing or actively participating. The program was initiated early on, as part of a multi-pronged approach to taking down the perceived Communist threat. In the 1950s, the CIA’s International Organizations Division was set up, aimed at promoting anti-Communist cultural projects abroad. The IOD placed CIA agents in the film and publishing industry; subsidized the animated adaptation of George Orwell’s Animal Farm; and yes, promoted Abstract Expressionism.
And while the goal was to promote the United States as an artistically vibrant, culturally rich country, it raised the ire of several American politicians, who saw the campaign as promoting “trash.”
Nevertheless, the CIA pushed on with the program. Explains then-CIA operative Donald Jameson:
“Regarding Abstract Expressionism, I’d love to be able to say that the CIA invented it just to see what happens in New York and downtown SoHo tomorrow! But I think that what we did really was to recognize the difference. It was recognized that Abstract Expression- ism was the kind of art that made [Russian] Socialist Realism look even more stylized and more rigid and confined than it was. And that relationship was exploited in some of the exhibitions.”
Ironically, the CIA’s star artists were often extremely distrustful of the government, and would likely have never willingly participated in such a campaign. [Telegraph]