The True Story of Abstract Expressionism and The U.S Government

There are weird stories and then there are even weirder stories. Abstract Expressionism is a form of art that was highly popular in the 20th century and the U.S. government used this art form to further its own policies. This is the true story of Abstract Expressionism and its relationship with the U.S. government.

Abstract Expressionism in New York

In the years following WWII, Abstract Expressionism was gaining ground in the U.S., particularly in New York. Such luminaries of the genre include Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning, Helen Frankenthaler, Franz Klineand Mark Rothko. Form was overtaken completely by symbolism which alluded to the psychological condition of the artists themselves. Soon it was at the forefront of modern art. It enabled New York to become the center of the art world and the artwork generated by this movement still fetch millions of dollars at auction. This increasing popularity was noticed by the U.S. government.

Art Intellegence in the Cold War

At the time the U.S. government was becoming embroiled in the Cold War. This was a confrontation between the U.S. and its allies versus the Soviet Union for political domination of the world. Fair means and foul were employed to gain an advantage over each other. Soon it was the turn of Abstract Expressionism to play its part in the Cold War.

Accusations of U.S. triumphalism were first levelled against Abstract Expressionism in 1973 by the art critic Max Kozloff. This did not sit well with the artists themselves because they viewed themselves as either outsiders or anarchists. It had long been suspected that the C.I.A. had been funding various institutions that made the U.S. look superior and in this environment Abstract Expressionism fell under suspicion. The C.I.A. did this through the Congress for Cultural Freedom. The CCF is supposed to have sponsored an art exhibition called The New American Painting, which toured Europe from 1958 to 1959. It is also interesting to note that Nelson Rockefeller, a future vice-president, was involved in the art world and the intelligence community at the same time so it wouldn’t be beyond the realm of possibility that he had in promoting Abstract Expressionism for purposes that suited the U.S. government.

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Abstract Expressionism and Socialist Realism

By showing the rest of the world that it was possible to paint anything that you fancied doing, the U.S. scored a major point in the argument between themselves and the U.S.S.R. Painters behind the Iron Curtain were limited to painting what the government told them to paint and this was called Socialist Realism. It’s been pointed out many times that freedom in itself is a major weapon against tyranny and is far more compatible with the human psyche rather than the strict hierarchical order which is inherent in non-democratic countries.

How Modern Media Overshadowed Abstract Expressionism

This is one of the more obscure chapters of the Cold War and in the end Abstract Expressionism couldn’t have been shown behind the Iron Curtain. It wasn’t until the 1980’s that T.V. shows and pop music had a significant effect on the people living behind the Iron Curtain. This demonstrated far more realistically what life was like in the U.S. than Abstract Expressionist paintings that were the purview of art lovers only. Perhaps only puzzlement and bemusement at the bizarre paintings of the movement would have been the only reactions registered by people behind the Iron Curtain during the Cold War.