From The Independent:
Revealed: how the spy agency used unwitting artists such as Pollock and de Kooning in a cultural Cold War
By Frances Stonor Saunders
Sunday, 22 October 1995
For decades in art circles it was either a rumour or a joke, but now it is confirmed as a fact. The Central Intelligence Agency used American modern art – including the works of such artists as Jackson Pollock, Robert Motherwell, Willem de Kooning and Mark Rothko – as a weapon in the Cold War. In the manner of a Renaissance prince – except that it acted secretly – the CIA fostered and promoted American Abstract Expressionist painting around the world for more than 20 years.
The connection is improbable. This was a period, in the 1950s and 1960s, when the great majority of Americans disliked or even despised modern art – President Truman summed up the popular view when he said: “If that’s art, then I’m a Hottentot.” As for the artists themselves, many were ex- com- munists barely acceptable in the America of the McCarthyite era, and certainly not the sort of people normally likely to receive US government backing.
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.
The existence of this policy, rumoured and disputed for many years, has now been confirmed for the first time by former CIA officials. Unknown to the artists, the new American art was secretly promoted under a policy known as the “long leash” – arrangements similar in some ways to the indirect CIA backing of the journal Encounter, edited by Stephen Spender.
The decision to include culture and art in the US Cold War arsenal was taken as soon as the CIA was founded in 1947. Dismayed at the appeal communism still had for many intellectuals and artists in the West, the new agency set up a division, the Propaganda Assets Inventory, which at its peak could influence more than 800 newspapers, magazines and public information organisations. They joked that it was like a Wurlitzer jukebox: when the CIA pushed a button it could hear whatever tune it wanted playing across the world.
The next key step came in 1950, when the International Organisations Division (IOD) was set up under Tom Braden. It was this office which subsidised the animated version of George Orwell’s Animal Farm, which sponsored American jazz artists, opera recitals, the Boston Symphony Orchestra’s international touring programme. Its agents were placed in the film industry, in publishing houses, even as travel writers for the celebrated Fodor guides. And, we now know, it promoted America’s anarchic avant-garde movement, Abstract Expressionism.
Initially, more open attempts were made to support the new American art. In 1947 the State Department organised and paid for a touring international exhibition entitled “Advancing American Art”, with the aim of rebutting Soviet suggestions that America was a cultural desert. But the show caused outrage at home, prompting Truman to make his Hottentot remark and one bitter congressman to declare: “I am just a dumb American who pays taxes for this kind of trash.” The tour had to be cancelled.
The US government now faced a dilemma. This philistinism, combined with Joseph McCarthy’s hysterical denunciations of all that was avant-garde or unorthodox, was deeply embarrassing. It discredited the idea that America was a sophisticated, culturally rich democracy. It also prevented the US government from consolidating the shift in cultural supremacy from Paris to New York since the 1930s. To resolve this dilemma, the CIA was brought in.
The connection is not quite as odd as it might appear. At this time the new agency, staffed mainly by Yale and Harvard graduates, many of whom collected art and wrote novels in their spare time, was a haven of liberalism when compared with a political world dominated by McCarthy or with J Edgar Hoover’s FBI. If any official institution was in a position to celebrate the collection of Leninists, Trotskyites and heavy drinkers that made up the New York School, it was the CIA.
Until now there has been no first-hand evidence to prove that this connection was made, but for the first time a former case officer, Donald Jameson, has broken the silence. Yes, he says, the agency saw Abstract Expressionism as an opportunity, and yes, it ran with it.
“Regarding Abstract Expressionism, I’d love to be able to say that the CIA invented it just to see what happens in New York and downtown SoHo tomorrow!” he joked. “But I think that what we did really was to recognise the difference. It was recognised that Abstract Expression- ism was the kind of art that made Socialist Realism look even more stylised and more rigid and confined than it was. And that relationship was exploited in some of the exhibitions.
“In a way our understanding was helped because Moscow in those days was very vicious in its denunciation of any kind of non-conformity to its own very rigid patterns. And so one could quite adequately and accurately reason that anything they criticised that much and that heavy- handedly was worth support one way or another.”
To pursue its underground interest in America’s lefty avant-garde, the CIA had to be sure its patronage could not be discovered. “Matters of this sort could only have been done at two or three removes,” Mr Jameson explained, “so that there wouldn’t be any question of having to clear Jackson Pollock, for example, or do anything that would involve these people in the organisation. And it couldn’t have been any closer, because most of them were people who had very little respect for the government, in particular, and certainly none for the CIA. If you had to use people who considered themselves one way or another to be closer to Moscow than to Washington, well, so much the better perhaps.”
This was the “long leash”. The centrepiece of the CIA campaign became the Congress for Cultural Freedom, a vast jamboree of intellectuals, writers, historians, poets, and artists which was set up with CIA funds in 1950 and run by a CIA agent. It was the beach-head from which culture could be defended against the attacks of Moscow and its “fellow travellers” in the West. At its height, it had offices in 35 countries and published more than two dozen magazines, including Encounter.
The Congress for Cultural Freedom also gave the CIA the ideal front to promote its covert interest in Abstract Expressionism. It would be the official sponsor of touring exhibitions; its magazines would provide useful platforms for critics favourable to the new American painting; and no one, the artists included, would be any the wiser.
This organisation put together several exhibitions of Abstract Expressionism during the 1950s. One of the most significant, “The New American Painting”, visited every big European city in 1958-59. Other influential shows included “Modern Art in the United States” (1955) and “Masterpieces of the Twentieth Century” (1952).
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.
Now in his eighties, Mr Braden lives in Woodbridge, Virginia, in a house packed with Abstract Expressionist works and guarded by enormous Alsatians. He explained the purpose of the IOD.
“We wanted to unite all the people who were writers, who were musicians, who were artists, to demonstrate that the West and the United States was devoted to freedom of expression and to intellectual achievement, without any rigid barriers as to what you must write, and what you must say, and what you must do, and what you must paint, which was what was going on in the Soviet Union. I think it was the most important division that the agency had, and I think that it played an enormous role in the Cold War.”
He confirmed that his division had acted secretly because of the public hostility to the avant-garde: “It was very difficult to get Congress to go along with some of the things we wanted to do – send art abroad, send symphonies abroad, publish magazines abroad. That’s one of the reasons it had to be done covertly. It had to be a secret. In order to encourage openness we had to be secret.”
Gertrude Stein and Alice Toklas in the apartment at 27 rue de Fleurus, Paris, 1922; photo: Man Ray; private collection, San Francisco; © Man Ray Trust / Artists Rights. Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris
SFMOMA Announces Exhibition on the Art and Influence of Gertrude Stein and Her Family
SAN FRANCISCO, CA. – The Steins are responsible in many ways for the turn-of-the century revolution in the visual arts through their adventurous patronage, deep ties to leading minds of the era, and legendary Paris salon gatherings. As powerful tastemakers, they had a commitment to the new, a confidence in their inclinations, and a drive to build appreciation for the work they loved. From the moment they first dared to admire Matisse’s scandalous Woman with a Hat (1905)—the “nasty smear of paint”1 that gave the fauves their name—the foursome were staking claims for modern art that would heavily influence their peers and transform the careers of several of the most important artists of the century.The Steins Collect: Matisse, Picasso, and the Parisian Avant-Garde reunites the unparalleled modern art collections of author Gertrude Stein, her brothers Leo and Michael Stein, and Michael’s wife, Sarah Stein. Jointly organized by the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA), the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, and the Réunion des Musées Nationaux, Paris, this major touring exhibition gathers approximately 200 iconic paintings, sculptures, drawings, prints, and illustrated books not only by Matisse and Picasso, who are each represented by dozens of works, but also by Pierre Bonnard, Paul Cézanne, Juan Gris, Marie Laurencin, Henri Manguin, Francis Picabia, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, and Félix Vallotton, among others. The Steins Collect will premiere at SFMOMA from May 21 through September 6, 2011, before traveling to Paris and then New York. Supplemented by a rich array of archival materials—including photographs, family albums, film clips, correspondence, and ephemera—the exhibition provides a new perspective on the artistic foresight of this innovative family, tracing their enduring impact on art-making and collecting practices and their inestimable role in creating a new international standard of taste for modern art. Sarah and Michael Stein’s return to San Francisco with a cache of important Matisse works in 1935, the same year SFMOMA was founded, was particularly instrumental in the advocacy of modern art on the West Coast as well as the making of the museum’s early collection; SFMOMA’s presentation will underscore the Steins’ deep connections to the Bay Area. “The Stein family legacy is proof that individual collectors make a huge impact on art history,” says SFMOMA Director Neal Benezra. “I can’t imagine a more timely and inspiring reminder that when it comes to collecting, presenting, and preserving the art of our time, it’s the appetite for risk and intellectual engagement with living artists that brings about the most important and lasting outcomes.” “It’s really impossible to overestimate the role of this eccentric American family as patrons of visual art in early 20th-century Paris,” says co-curator Janet Bishop of SFMOMA. “The Steins were true champions of modernism, embracing and defending new art as it was first being made and before it was met with widespread acceptance. They not only avidly collected works when the artists most needed support, but also enthusiastically opened their modest Left Bank homes to anyone wishing to see the most radical art of the day.” As American expatriates living in France, the four Steins were pivotal in shaping the city’s vibrant cultural life. Leo Stein (1872–1947) and younger sister Gertrude Stein (1874–1946) were the first to leave the family home in Oakland, traveling to Paris along with millions of tourists to visit the 1900 World’s Fair and then relocating to the city in 1902 and 1903, respectively. Sarah Stein (1870–1953) and Michael Stein (1865–1938) soon followed from San Francisco with their eight-year-old son, Allan, arriving in early 1904. The family established their apartments on rue de Fleurus (Leo and Gertrude) and rue Madame (Sarah and Michael) and quickly integrated into the intellectual circles of the Parisian avant-garde. Gertrude and Leo lived modestly off family investments and had to team up to afford their early purchases. “You can either buy clothes or buy pictures. It’s that simple. . . . No one who is not very rich can do both,” was Gertrude’s legendary quote from Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast. The Steins also formed close friendships with the emerging artists they championed, particularly Matisse and Picasso, whose works they aggressively collected and promoted to their associates, almost single-handedly creating markets for their work outside Paris. They dined and vacationed regularly with Matisse and his family, counseled Fernande Olivier on her stormy relationship with Picasso, and made countless introductions. Sarah was instrumental in helping Matisse establish his art school and was among his devoted students. Along the way, the Steins covered their studio walls with cutting-edge paintings by the most controversial artists of the day and were soon overwhelmed with requests to see the collections. They eventually had to establish regular visiting hours so that Gertrude could attend to her writing in peace. Michael and Sarah decided to open their apartment on the same night of the week and so began the prestigious Saturday evening salons where the brightest artists, writers, musicians, and collectors of the day convened to discuss the latest developments. Anyone with a proper referral was welcome to strain their eyes to see the works by candlelight, as neither apartment was wired with electricity yet. Following its SFMOMA debut, The Steins Collect will travel to the Grand Palais, Paris (October 3, 2011, through January 20, 2012) and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (February 21 through June 3, 2012). The exhibition is cocurated by Janet Bishop, curator of painting and sculpture at SFMOMA; Cécile Debray, curator of historical collections at the Musée national d’Art moderne, Centre Pompidou, Paris; Rebecca Rabinow, associate curator and administrator, Department of Nineteenth-Century, Modern, and Contemporary Art at the Metropolitan Museum of Art; and Gary Tinterow, Englehard Curator in Charge, Department of Nineteenth-Century, Modern, and Contemporary Art at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. A richly illustrated catalogue accompanies the exhibition, with new research and original essays from a range of French and American experts in the field.
Mikhail Vasilyevich Nesterov was a leading representative of religious Symbolism in Russian art. He studied under Pavel Tchistyakov at the Imperial Academy of Arts, but later allied himself with the group of artists known as the Peredvizhniki. His canvas The Vision of the Youth Bartholomew (1890–91), depicting the conversion of medieval Russian saint Sergii Radonezhsky, is often considered to mark the inauguration of the Russian Symbolist movement.
via RasMarley’s Flickr