The CIA employed abstract artists to fight the Cold War
The CIA secretly pumped funds into abstract expressionists, such as Jackson Pollack and Mark Rothko, in an attempt to make American freedom and expression art popular in contrast to rigid Soviet art.
Yes, the CIA did fund modern art during the Cold War era and modernism became a weapon, with both the State Department and the CIA supporting exhibitions of American art all over the world. Actually, the link between Modern Art and American diplomacy began during WWII, when the Museum of Modern Art was mobilized for the war effort.
The CIA was created in 1947, and it began funding and using Modern Art as a Cold War weapon. It focused in on the works of Jackson Pollock, Robert Motherwell, Willem de Kooning and Mark Rothko to gather intelligence about the Soviet enemy.
The Agency soon began promoting American abstract expressionists’ paintings around the world in the manner of a rebirth in freedom and expressionism- an art Renaissance, between 1987 and 2001. Cultural and democratic freedoms have been a part of the CIA’s propaganda campaign against the Soviet Union, and now the Russian Federation since the end of the Cold War.
Yes, the CIA included American modern art as part of its Cold War arsenal and made Jackson Pollock a rich man. Mark Rothko and De Kooning became household names largely because of the CIA’s sponsorships of them. Unlike the military, the CIA fought the Cold War with abstract expressionists and rock’n’roll, not guns (Yes, a few hard rock bands were employed by the CIA, but that is for a later discussion).
Abstract Expressionism was promoted by the CIA as part of a “long leash” program, funded by an entity two to three levels removed from the artists. Artists sympathetic to the communist cause may have objected to their work serving as pro-US propaganda. It is so ironic that the fundamental values of freedom of expression, which are the embodiment of American democracy, had many communist members.
Therefore, the CIA purposefully ensured that its sponsorship of the American lefty avant-garde would not be discovered. It knows how to operate underground while blending in in plain view!
It was a weird relationship, Jackson Pollock and the Abstract Expressionists unknowingly linking up to the CIA in NYC. The Big Apple was the center of the art world after World War II and the CIA made them weapons of the Cold War to combat Soviet propaganda. I wonder, NYC is still the hub of the art biosphere in America today… could the CIA still be using them to promote freedom of expression around the world?
Lastly, enjoy this video How the CIA Secretly Used Jackson Pollock to Fight the Cold War.
Robert Morton is a member of the Association of Former Intelligence Officers (AFIO), enjoys writing about the U.S. Intelligence Community, and relishes traveling to the Florida Keys and Key West, the Bahamas and Caribbean. He combines both passions in his Corey Pearson- CIA Spymaster series. Check out his latest spy thriller: MISSION OF VENGEANCE.