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Label: cia

Wednesday 06th January 2016Modern Art, Modern Weapon

To kick things off in hilarious style this year, we present one of the strangest stories we've come across while writing for the Gallereo blog. Everyone is aware of the existence of the Cold War, the period during the 1970s and 80s where the United States and the Soviet Union were locked in a relatively non-violent struggle for hearts and minds in countries around the world. Spies and intrigue were everywhere, and the geopolitical climate was fraught with tension and brinksmanship every day. In a climate like that, it's no surprise that much of the battle was fought in cultural terms - and naturally, the art world played a major role.

For a long time, it was considered simply a rumour or a joke among those in the art world who'd ever heard the story, but it has now been confirmed as a fact  by former Central Intelligence Agency officials: the American government used modern art as a political weapon.

As hilarious as it seems, this was a real effort, with the CIA helping to foster and spread Abstract Expressionist art around the world in a kind of hands-off cultural war. Behind an organisation known as the Congress for Cultural Freedom, which was set in up the 1950s with CIA money and run by a CIA agent, exhibitions and showcases of American modern art were hosted in every major city in Europe in the late 1950s.

Donald Jameson, a former case officer with the CIA who is now retired, explains the theory. "It was recognised that Abstract Expressionism was the kind of art that made Socialist Realism look even more stylised and more rigid and confined than it was. And that relationship was exploited in some of the exhibitions. In a way our understanding was helped because Moscow in those days was very vicious in its denunciation of any kind of non-conformity to its own very rigid patterns. And so one could quite adequately and accurately reason that anything they criticised that much and that heavy- handedly was worth support one way or another."

Tom Braden, another retired ex-CIA official, elaborates even further. "We wanted to unite all the people who were writers, who were musicians, who were artists, to demonstrate that the West and the United States was devoted to freedom of expression and to intellectual achievement, without any rigid barriers as to what you must write, and what you must say, and what you must do, and what you must paint, which was what was going on in the Soviet Union. I think it was the most important division that the agency had, and I think that it played an enormous role in the Cold War."

While it wasn't the only weapon these organisations used, these revelations provide a fascinating sidelight into the hidden side of a hidden war. Abstract expressionism would likely have risen to become the most popular genre in the post-WWII world without this kind of help, so don't suddenly reject these artists!
 

Posted on January 06th 2016 on 04:51pm
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