Survey of Arts Management

Course blog for American University PERF-570, Fall 2014

Forget About Nukes … Art is Our Weapon of Choice!

THIS IS SO COOL. And scary. Don’t get me wrong. It’s super scary. But it’s also reveals a very interesting undercurrent in what people believe Art to be capable of. The article is about an initiative led by the C.I.A. during the Cold War to use Abstract Expressionism (made popular by artists like Jackson Pollock) to ‘fight communism’. Their thinking was that American modern art was a reflection of the American spirit of freedom and creativity, and that by secretly propping up the Art world they were undermining the communist agenda. Think about it: particularly seen in relation to socialist realism, the works of artists like Mark Rothko take on a new meaning. This was a part of the Cold War fought using symbols and expression, but all the more potent for that. The CIA, however, is not the in the business of establishing cultural policy so they had to do it secret-like: ‘Hey, art gallery, put up this art piece. We can’t tell you why. Just do it, okay?’

This most certainly a case of direct cultural imperialism, but if it supports the creation of new work….is it really so bad? What intrigues me is that the Art world only suspected this through hearsay – it wasn’t until recently that enough time had passed for the CIA to release the raw facts. It makes me wonder what weird cultural warfare is being waged currently that we have no idea about…could Beyonce or Bieber be CIA props to establish American cultural hegemony??? Ahhhh, conspiracies!

“But look where this art ended up: in the marble halls of banks, in airports, in city halls, boardrooms and great galleries. For the Cold Warriors who promoted them, these paintings were a logo, a signature for their culture and system which they wanted to display everywhere that counted. They succeeded.”


One comment on “Forget About Nukes … Art is Our Weapon of Choice!

  1. lcrowley2014
    October 10, 2014

    I am a little bit of a conspiracy junkie myself, so I really liked this article. Thanks for sharing! But I don’t think it’s all that scary – or out of the ordinary. I think pieces of cultural identity have been used as leverage or pawns throughout history And certainly propaganda during wartime. Which just goes to show their significance to a nations identity and the overall importance of art!!
    Sidenote: how lucky would it be to be in a position of decision making power to start collecting art that you know (because of your own influence) will be world renowned. I bet some of the CIA directors at the time have some Rothko’s, Motherwell’s, and Pollock’s of their own.

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