Monday, January 09, 2006

Abstract art's secret agents

Sam Francis, “Untitled” (ca. 1988-89)

Reposting can really be a good thing.
In 2003 Mark Vallen, the author of one of the most conservative contemporary art blogs I know, wrote a review of a book called The Cultural Cold War: The CIA and the World of Arts and Letters. Because of a recent exhibition of Sam Francis' works (mind you, Mark Vallen despises abstract painting), he reposted the text. Here are some fragments:
(...)during the height of the Cold War in the 1950's, the CIA secretly promoted abstract expressionism as a means of discrediting the socialist realism of the Soviet Union.(...)The spy agency created and staffed an international institution they named the Congress for Cultural Freedom(CCF,) and from 1950 to 1967 (when the front group was at last exposed as a CIA operation,) the spook endowment had secretly bankrolled the abstract expressionist movement with untold millions of dollars. (...) The CIA orchestrated the publication of a major article on Jackson Pollock in LIFE Magazine declaring him "the shining new phenomenon of American art," and the "greatest living artist."(...) The CIA applied considerable muscle in its endeavor to support and advance the abstract expressionist movement, and in large part they were successful. Realism became passé as art critics focused on singing the praises of action painting.
While this is certainly a very one-sided way of seeing things, the very fact that the CIA took such an active part in the art world is spooky. It's a classic conspiracy theory gone alternative, cynical and bewildering, as all good conspiracy theories are. Where does that put us? In the box of silly lunatics, children that are easily manipulated by anyone with money to spend on PR?
Nonetheless, if we read into art history a little more closely, and if we compare it to the changes in Western mentality, this apparent manipulation of the CIA is really just participating in a much bigger wave. I hope this blog shows that, contrary to what Mark Vallen would like us to believe, this wave hasn't only brought "decay and primitivism", but also many wonderful, crazy, profound, unexpected or simply - beautiful experiences. And one doesn't need to adore Sam Francis (I don't) to appreciate that.

For more on the book in question:

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Mark Vallen is a bitter, opportunistic kook, plain and simple.


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