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Abstract Expressionism as CIA Plot
I realize some people feel that Abstract Expressionism needs some kind of an excuse for its existence, but the following purported connection between Abstract Expressionism and the CIA seems just bizarre. It comes from a review of Who Paid the Piper: The CIA and the Cultural Cold War by Frances Stonor Saunders

One of the most important and fascinating discussions in Saunders' book is about the fact that CIA and its allies in the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) poured vast sums of money into promoting Abstract Expressionist (AE) painting and painters as an antidote to art with a social content. In promoting AE, the CIA fought off the right-wing in Congress. What the CIA saw in AE was an "anti-Communist ideology, the ideology of freedom, of free enterprise. Non-figurative and politically silent it was the very antithesis of socialist realism" (254). They viewed AE as the true expression of the national will. To bypass right-wing criticism, the CIA turned to the private sector (namely MOMA and its co-founder, Nelson Rockefeller, who referred to AE as "free enterprise painting.") Many directors at MOMA had longstanding links to the CIA and were more than willing to lend a hand in promoting AE as a weapon in the cultural Cold War. Heavily funded exhibits of AE were organized all over Europe; art critics were mobilized, and art magazines churned out articles full of lavish praise. The combined economic resources of MOMA and the CIA-run Fairfield Foundation ensured the collaboration of Europe's most prestigious galleries which, in turn, were able to influence aesthetics across Europe.

Art museum directors on the front lines of the Cold War? That sounds like the plot of a Thomas Pynchon novel to me. It also sounds just crazy enough to be true. (via Early Days of a Better Nation)
ArtConspiracy Theories
Posted by The Curator on Mon Jan 10, 2005


Or it could be that Abstract Expressionism is crap. Sorry, but a splash of paint on canvas that a toddler could do is not art. Hell, I could paint the crap they're selling and I don't think anyone would give me the millions those paintings sell for. Give me Monet anytime... (although my favorite painting is Van Gogh's Starry Night)
Posted by Fay-Fay  on  Mon Jan 10, 2005  at  06:26 PM
Did you read this, um, work, Alex? Is it a handful of smoke, or are there real sources quoted? Seems like something cooked up to sell books, frankly.
Posted by cvirtue  in  deleted  on  Mon Jan 10, 2005  at  08:19 PM
It is definitely true that the CIA covertly funded various cultural institutions (notably several literary magazines and intellectual reviews) during the Cold War, both in the U.S. and abroad, apparently with some kind of idea that this would be a counterweight to the attraction that leftist ideology seemed to have for many artists and writers. But it's something of a jump from there to saying that looking at abstract expressionist paintings was seriously expected to convince everyone of the rightness of capitalism. I'd like to see more evidence of that before I believe it.
Posted by Big Gary C  in  Dallas, Texas  on  Mon Jan 10, 2005  at  08:55 PM
I heard this story from several people when i was taking my fine arts degree. it was generally phrased as an attempt to relocate the cultural center away from Europe following WWII.
Posted by corky  on  Tue Jan 11, 2005  at  12:35 AM
Fay-Fay said:

"Or it could be that Abstract Expressionism is crap. Sorry, but a splash of paint on canvas that a toddler could do is not art. Hell, I could paint the crap they're selling and I don't think anyone would give me the millions those paintings sell for."

AE may or may not be "crap," but it seems to me that you're trying to have it both ways here. It's "crap" according to you which, of course, raises the question of why you don't just produce some of it yourself and reap the rewards? Ah, but then you say that you don't think anyone would pay YOU the millions some of the art goes for.

If it's just paint splashed on canvas, why couldn't YOU do the same and make the "millions" as well? Just curious.
Posted by crankymediaguy  on  Tue Jan 11, 2005  at  06:58 AM
To be honest I initially thought it was a hoax but now I just don't know. From what I remember the CIA did do some really bizarre things i.e. from trying to assassinate Castro with an exploding cigar to surgically implanting a listening device into a cat (using the tail to surgically implant the anntena) to eves drop on the Russians. From what I read the cat got run over by a car before it did any eaves dropping.

Or maybe these are hoaxes too?
Posted by Peter  in  Melbourne, Australia  on  Tue Jan 11, 2005  at  09:07 AM
Fay-Fay: it's not about how easily you can splash some paint onto a canvas, it's about getting the idea of doing so.
Posted by Zoltan  in  Austria  on  Tue Jan 11, 2005  at  12:34 PM
It's not just about splashing paint on a canvas or even getting the idea to do so. It's also about getting an art critic to declare your work brilliant.
Posted by The Curator  in  San Diego  on  Tue Jan 11, 2005  at  12:52 PM
Alex-
...or the CIA.
Posted by Matt  on  Tue Jan 11, 2005  at  06:49 PM
Alex said:

"It's not just about splashing paint on a canvas or even getting the idea to do so. It's also about getting an art critic to declare your work brilliant."

I actually agree with this. If one assumes that abstact expressionism (or any other school of art) is crap, then the "trick" would be in getting someone of "authority" to laud you and your work and convince the public (or art collectors) that it's the cat's pajamas. Hey, for that alone you deserve to make a few bucks.
Posted by crankymediaguy  on  Tue Jan 11, 2005  at  11:34 PM
"it's the cat's pajamas" is one of the strangest analogies I've ever heard. That's definitely a new one to me crankymediaguy.
Posted by Razela  in  Chicago, IL  on  Sun Jan 23, 2005  at  01:40 AM
Razela said:

"it's the cat's pajamas" is one of the strangest analogies I've ever heard. That's definitely a new one to me crankymediaguy."

Oh, it's just an old American slang expression that I threw in for laughs. I have no idea what the derivation of it is; I only know that it means that something is great, terrific, wonderful, etc.
Posted by Cranky Media Guy  on  Sun Jan 23, 2005  at  08:19 AM
The CIA had ties with the Committee for Cultural Freedom and did sponsor many cultural endeavors in an attempt to negate the appeal of communism to intellectuals and artists, and undermine the communist claim of moral superiority. Funds were supplied indirectly and clandestinely to artists who were involved in the Abstract Expressionist movement.

The CIA's sponsorship of cultural endeavors is far from the government actually creating Abstract Expressionism as a weapon against communism. Many of the details of the CIA's involvement with the Committee for Cultural Freedom are obscure and lost. Therefore, there is little to actually be known about it other than it was something that indeed did happen.
Posted by Amber  on  Thu Dec 06, 2007  at  04:41 AM
I like the wording "cultural cold war" he he, Thanks for sharing
Posted by morten l  in  Denmark  on  Mon Mar 29, 2010  at  05:05 PM
http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/modern-art-was-a-cia-weapon-1578808.html

Former CIA officer speaks out
Posted by Tima  on  Wed Nov 10, 2010  at  11:55 AM
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