The Abstract art collection the CIA built
16 May 2013
In the 1990s, a long held suspicion was confirmed: the US Central Intelligence Agency secretly sent Abstract Expressionism and other forms of American art and music abroad in the 1950s and 1960s as part of a propaganda campaign to assert American cultural dominance in the Cold War era. The first chief of the CIA division spearheading that campaign stated why the operation had to be clandestine: “It was very difficult to get Congress to go along with some of the things we wanted to do—send art abroad… In order to encourage openness we had to be secret.”
The most thorough recreation to date of that doomed project can be seen in “Art Interrupted: Advancing American Art and the Politics of Cultural Diplomacy”, a travelling exhibition jointly organised by three university museums: Auburn University, the University of Oklahoma and the University of Georgia (Indiana University is also participating as a venue for the tour, but is not one of the organisers). The exhibition and its accompanying catalogue offer a thorough examination of a moment in American history when politics and culture—as well as professional expertise and populist taste—clashed, a phenomenon that feels all-too-familiar.