What’s the distinction between the US of America and a cup of yogurt? In case you depart the cup of yogurt alone for 200 years, it develops a tradition. So goes one in all 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 fact. However there was a time when the federal authorities of the U.S., a company not usually accused of extreme high-mindedness, took an energetic position in selling the nation’s home-grown avant-garde — an acceptable time period, notes Lucie Levine at JSTOR Day by day, because it “started as a French navy 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 Conflict II, America had by no means produced massive, 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 coloration and kind.” 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 operate as propaganda, highlighting “the variations between American and Soviet politics” — and extra particularly, “the attraction of American tradition over Soviet Tradition.”
“Was Jackson Pollock a weapon within the Chilly Conflict?” asks the New Yorker‘s Louis Menand. Whereas Pollock was certainly promoted overseas with CIA cash (often offered by 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 Evaluation. You concentrate on how a painter may have taken all he had skilled throughout a artistic threshold that nobody had crossed earlier than, and produced this specific factor.” However its “significance for a sure strand of Chilly Conflict cultural politics is a part of the story of the way it obtained to us, a technology or extra later, and that historical past is value realizing.” It’s additionally value asking, ought to the US as soon as once more discover itself face-to-face with a formidable political and cultural adversary, whether or not it will likely be ready to draft a couple of Pollocks again into service.
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Based mostly in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and tradition. His tasks embrace the Substack publication Books on Cities, the e-book The Stateless Metropolis: a Stroll by Twenty first-Century Los Angeles and the video sequence The Metropolis in Cinema. Observe him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Fb.