What’s the distinction between america of America and a cup of yogurt? When you depart the cup of yogurt alone for 200 years, it develops a tradition. So goes one among many jokes lengthy in circulation concerning the supposed American tendency towards low-minded, expedient philistinism. I grant, as an American myself, that such humor surrounds at the very least a grain of reality. However there was a time when the federal authorities of the U.S., a corporation not typically accused of extreme high-mindedness, took an lively function in selling the nation’s home-grown avant-garde — an applicable time period, notes Lucie Levine at JSTOR Every day, because it “started as a French army time period to explain vanguard troops advancing into battle,” and American fashionable artwork had turn out to be a continuation of politics by different means.
“Up till World Warfare II, America had by no means produced giant, influential artwork actions like in Europe,” says the narrator of the Conspiracy of Artwork video above. After the warfare, “one thing surprising occurred: a brood of radical American painters helped make New York Metropolis the middle of the artwork world.”
Mark Rothko, Willem de Kooning, and Jackson Pollock: they and different artists “captured the world’s consideration with large-scale works of pure colour and type.” This motion got here to be generally known as summary expressionism, and within the eyes of the newly established Central Intelligence Company, it got here to point out promise as propaganda. If proven overseas, it may perform as propaganda, highlighting “the variations between American and Soviet politics” — and extra particularly, “the enchantment of American tradition over Soviet Tradition.”
“Was Jackson Pollock a weapon within the Chilly Warfare?” asks the New Yorker‘s Louis Menand. Whereas Pollock was certainly promoted overseas with CIA cash (often offered by means of layers of organizational misdirection), you don’t take a look at a portray like Lavender Mist and “take into consideration ‘creative free enterprise’ or the CIA, or the cultural politics of Partisan Evaluate. You concentrate on how a painter may have taken all he had skilled throughout a inventive threshold that nobody had crossed earlier than, and produced this specific factor.” However its “significance for a sure strand of Chilly Warfare cultural politics is a part of the story of the way it acquired to us, a technology or extra later, and that historical past is price realizing.” It’s additionally price asking, ought to america as soon as once more discover itself face-to-face with a formidable political and cultural adversary, whether or not it is going to be ready to draft just a few Pollocks again into service.
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Based mostly in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and tradition. His initiatives embody the Substack e-newsletter Books on Cities, the e book The Stateless Metropolis: a Stroll by means of Twenty first-Century Los Angeles and the video collection The Metropolis in Cinema. Comply with him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Fb.