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Books

The Progression Of Abstract Expressionism And The Link It With Cold War

June 23, 2022 by Essay Writer

After completing the readings, the editorial by Eva Cockcroft, “Abstract Expressionism, Weapon of the Cold War,” proved to be the most interesting to me. In her chapter, she claims that Abstract Expressionism was used by the United States government and many other various institutions to create a distaste for the Soviet Union and gain more international allies. She began the chapter with a quote that caught my attention. Cockcroft states, “To understand why a particular art movement becomes successful under a given set of historical circumstances requires an examination of the specifics of patronage and the ideological needs of the powerful,” (Cockcroft, 125). Throughout her writing, she indeed examines these aspects of Abstract Expressionism and provides explanations of her arguments with facts and statistics, and she also acknowledges other published pieces that have been written on the subject.

One work that Cockcroft references is actually another reading, “American Painting During the Cold War,” by Max Kozloff. In his chapter, he states that the progression of Abstract Expressionism was a mere coincidence to the time period and believed that it did not link to Cold War politics at all. Cockcroft, however, disagrees and contradicts his statements. She claims that there is an obvious and direct relationship between art and politics that she has discovered by examining art programs overseas. The patronage of museums is something that she criticizes in particular, referencing The Museum of Modern Art and the Central Intelligence Agency. Cockcroft explains that the CIA “sought to influence the foreign intellectual community and to present a strong propaganda image of the United States as a ‘free’ society as opposed to the ‘regimented’ communist bloc,” (Cockroft, 128-129). After stating her firm belief in these accusations, she goes on to divulge the history of the Abstract Expressionist movement brought forth by the Cold War.

She explains how MOMA, under the direction of Porter A. McCray, set up exhibitions for American abstract expressionist artists internationally, in places like London, Paris, São Paulo, and Tokyo; and, in turn, MOMA brought foreign exhibits to the United States. This, however, was only possible due to the grant financed by the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, and MOMA’s advantage in the art world came from the Rockefeller’s wealth and influence. (Though Cockcroft is referring to this in a negative sense, I still believe that the Rockefeller’s influence would be more beneficial than that of the government.) Cockcroft then talks about how Thomas W. Braden was supervising the cultural activities for the CIA in the early 1950s, and he also happened to be the former executive secretary of MOMA. She uses this as a primary example of how the CIA and MOMA were both playing distinct roles in the Cold War. Braden was questioned about how the CIA funded a Paris tour for the Boston Symphony Orchestra in 1952, to which he cited, “‘the Boston Symphony Orchestra won more acclaim in the United States than John Foster Dulles or Dwight D. Eisenhower could have brought with a hundred speeches,’” (Cockcroft, 128). This statement alone shows the reasons why these agencies held such high goals for having events overseas.

Cockcroft expands on her argument, saying that the CIA was essential to international relations because of the public’s hostility towards Modern Art. This antagonism often intruded with the exhibitions and left the aid to the Abstract Expressionist movement to be held to a higher level of government secrecy. An example of this is that the United States government secretly perpetuated Abstract Expressionism overseas as the Soviet regime started to idealize paintings in order to fool their people. This point made by Cockcroft really made me wonder why such extreme measures of confidentiality could be endorsed by an agency such as the CIA.

It seemed that MOMA could already pursue their aims through the support of millionaires, like the Rockefellers, and did not need to use intense CIA strategies. However, her piece did make me contemplate the possibility that society could have been manipulated into changing their opinions and views about Modern art, but if so was it necessarily a bad thing?

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