For 20 years, the CIA funded and promoted Abstract Expressionism as propaganda

Why did the CIA support them? Because in the propaganda war with the Soviet Union, this new artistic movement could be held up as proof of the creativity, the intellectual freedom, and the cultural power of the US. Russian art, strapped into the communist ideological straitjacket, could not compete.

Because Abstract Expressionism was expensive to move around and exhibit, millionaires and museums were called into play. Pre-eminent among these was Nelson Rockefeller, whose mother had co-founded the Museum of Modern Art in New York. As president of what he called “Mummy’s museum”, Rockefeller was one of the biggest backers of Abstract Expressionism (which he called “free enterprise painting”). His museum was contracted to the Congress for Cultural Freedom to organise and curate most of its important art shows.

The museum was also linked to the CIA by several other bridges. William Paley, the president of CBS broadcasting and a founding father of the CIA, sat on the members’ board of the museum’s International Programme. John Hay Whitney, who had served in the agency’s wartime predecessor, the OSS, was its chairman. And Tom Braden, first chief of the CIA’s International Organisations Division, was executive secretary of the museum in 1949.

Just amazing. And hilarious.

So we have the CIA to blame for modern art. I knew something that ugly and insipid couldn’t be popular and expensive without some sort of scam going on.

At least they didn’t repeat the Bay of Pigs.

Not this shit again.

OK fine, going back on topic…

It was a clever scam. More subtle and, I think, effective than I’d ever give the CIA credit for. It definitely served its purpose.

It’s probably a testament to the caliber of this artistic movement that even the CIA couldn’t fuck it up. Over to you.

It’s at least partly a testament to the old Ivy League WASPy tweedy pipe-smoking CIA, who had the financial and cultural connections to do something like this. The CIA of today is probably backing reality shows or something.

I think it’s a fair point, though LK. Even if you might argue that MA is as real as art can get, these connections do make light of the idea that art is subjective and that specifically directed appreciation of such can create the value of the piece. It’s now hard to know what would have happened otherwise. Lapham actually spoke about this as an open secret, how “classic literature” of the 50s and 60s was very much our quite public competition with Soviet culture, and how it’s immediate and precipitous decline is to a great extent due to the evaporation of its need by the Western political elite once victory became certain.

Wow. Just wow.

World of Warcraft was secretly funded by the CIA? Is that your claim, “Jason McCullough”, if that IS your REAL NAME?

I guess that would be a fair point, if patronage (explicit and otherwise) hadn’t been an integral part of art (good and otherwise) since forever. Being that we live in this world rather than that one, it’s going to be difficult for me to take this as a serious criticism rather than interesting historical context. Bulgakov doesn’t turn into a shitty writer because Stalin had a rare fit of good taste with regard to some of his work; being complicated doesn’t provide the magically objective depreciation of value that qt3-caliber art critics yearn for. There are many legitimate arguments that can be leveled as criticisms of any artistic category, but precious few of them are going to take the form of folksy conventional wisdom bullshit.

There is a dramatic contrast between conditions of successful artists in the the Soviet system, most of whom were hold overs from the pre-Revolutionary intelligentsia, and who were working in a sense, at gunpoint and for their very lives, which gives Soviet era art an almost clean sweeping urgency, vs. the US experience, which seems to be fishing for cultural outliers and holding them up to the scrutiny of the elite; and then, if good, placing them on the pedestal for all to see.

It’s also a big difference because there is also a contrast between Soviet art, which, frankly, could slip through the system because the centralized Soviet state wouldn’t know art if it slapped them, and so defaulted to idealizing the nationalist classics, and the US experience, which seems to have been filtered through the lens of those self same “tweedy pipe-smoking” types. You get the sense that Soviet art is art despite its conditions, not because of it, an extremely important point in “validating” it over time.

The problem, ultimately, with the patronage argument - and, please be kind, i’m not taking sides - is that it implies that good art will never really be supported by the masses and requires an “virtuous aristocracy” to nourish it. Part of the illusion of the 50s and 60s was that these art movements were art movements of the people; of the free and democratic people; see, what freedom has wrought! Time magazine covers of Pulitzer Prize winners, and so on. In contrast to the staid and gray Soviet backward looking “art”, quite openly funded by it’s government.

It turn out that both sides were funding their own cultural programs, but only one side was doing it openly, which leaves both results open to the same “aristocratic” objections.

I’m not saying they are similar beyond the characteristic I highlighted*: patronage by the evil/establishment/aristocracy of the day does not mean that it’s a scam in artistic terms. It is historically relevant, and it does add artistic context. That’s not the same as providing the aforementioned holy grail for stereotypical middle Americans everywhere who can’t resist using the platitudes that serve them so well in everyday life as a foundation for sweeping generalizations about things they don’t really give a shit about.

Apart from that angle, it’s a great story that I’d like to see more on, specifically with reference to the points of views of some of the artists and critics themselves. That is, beyond “ex-communists” and other labels that article tosses around freely.

*and Bulgakov was an example chosen for Stalin’s unusual affinity for his work, as opposed any number of artists that merely survived the system.

This is awesome.

Actually i think quite a few games probably are backed by ‘CIA’(or associates) money. One of the reasons AAA is what it is these days imho. I wouldn’t think WoW was one of them though.

Well, it gets you +5 happiness and +2 culture, so I could see why the picked it in the end. Still, a little odd.

Seriously? You would be wrong. The DoD doesn’t even fund that many projects, and even fewer have any kind of commercial appeal.

The New World Order is behind the consolization of games because they don’t want the next generation knowing enough about computers to be the kinds of cyberjockeys and technowarriors necessary able to fight the brainwashing effects of the one world government’s stranglehold over all human culture.

You know what isn’t funded by the CIA? DWARF FORTRESS.

It would be if it had been around in 1950.

Does this mean my MoMA membership makes me complicit with Iran Contra?