The CIA and the Cultural Cold War

Frances Stonor Saunders’s book The Cultural Cold War (2000) has just been released in Russian. This work is the only major expose of the CIA’s use of artists, writers and critics as tools in the cultural front of the Cold War. The dialogue about art in the Soviet Union is inseparable from discussions about propaganda, government censorship, government support and political content. The dialogue about art in the west during the 20th century often ignores these larger political issues, focusing on formal concerns and individual artists rather than larger cultural and political struggles. The dichotomy of Western artistic and intellectual freedom vs. Soviet artistic and intellectual repression, however, was at least partially constructed through the covert operations of the United States government. Many of the artists who are hailed as beacons of western artistic freedom were in fact plucked from total obscurity with CIA funding. Galleries and partons were instructed on which artists to buy and for how much, and so, under the guise of a free market process, the avant garde worked as a propaganda arm on the cultural front of the Cold War.

Here’s an excerpt from the Amazon description of the book that names names:

” This “impressively detailed” (Kirkus Reviews) book draws together newly declassified documents and exclusive interviews to expose the CIA’s astonishing campaign wherein some of the most vocal exponents of intellectual freedom became instruments of the American government. Those involved included George Orwell, Bertrand Russell, Jean-Paul Sartre, Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., and Gloria Steinem. The result is “a tale of intrigue and betrayal, with scene after scene as thrilling as any in a John Le Carré novel” (The Chronicle of Higher Education).”

Pyotr Konchalovsky at the Tretyakov Gallery

A new exhibition of the work of Pyotr Konchalovsky is on display at the Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow. Konchalovsky was a member of the Jack of Diamonds group, which began with a shocking exhibition in 1910. The Jack of Diamonds group also included renowned artists Natalia Gonchorova and Alexander Kuprin. It was the key organization in the Russian avant-garde of the early 20th century.

The exhibition, along with a conference on the influence of Paul Cezanne which was conducted in March, was organized by the Petr Konchalovsky Foundation. Here’s an excerpt from their brochure for the show:

“The exhibition will present the artist’s best paintings from the collections
of the Russian Museum and the Tretyakov Gallery, and also the most famous works from private collections. Moreover, paintings from the artist’s family-collection and other rare archival documents and personal items will be exhibited for the first time. This comprehensive gathering of material will recreate the unique atmosphere, in which Petr Konchalovsky’s paintings were made, and the directions of Russian fine art of the first half of the 20th century formed and transformed.”

The exhibition will run through November 14th. Link to exhibition website.