The Ford Foundation and the CIA, by James Petras

For those absolutely devoid of scruples, charity fraud is the field par excellance, in which you can simultaneously harvest kudos for your humanitarianism and make off with vast bundles of untaxed cash. Convictions for charity fraud are so rare as to be nonexistent, so any criminals operating in other fields of endeavor are incurring unnecessary risks.

Re: The Ford Foundation and the CIA, by James Petras

Postby admin » Wed May 06, 2020 3:03 am

Congress for Cultural Freedom
by Wikipedia
Accessed: 5/5/20



Congress for Cultural Freedom
Motto: To counter the Communist "cultural offensive" and uphold the importance of intellectual freedom
Founded: 26 June 1950
Dissolved: 1979 (as International Association for Cultural Freedom)
Location: Paris
Origins: Central Intelligence Agency
Area served: Europe, Asia, Africa, North America, Latin America, Australia
Method: conferences, journals, seminars
Key people: Melvin J. Lasky, Nikolai Nabokov, Michael Josselson
Endowment: CIA to 1966; Ford Foundation to 1979

The Congress for Cultural Freedom (CCF) was an anti-communist advocacy group founded in 1950. At its height, the CCF was active in thirty-five countries. In 1966 it was revealed that the United States Central Intelligence Agency was instrumental in the establishment and funding of the group.[1][2]

Historian Frances Stonor Saunders writes (1999): "Whether they liked it or not, whether they knew it or not, there were few writers, poets, artists, historians, scientists, or critics in postwar Europe whose names were not in some way linked to this covert enterprise."[3] A different slant on the origins and work of the Congress is offered by Peter Coleman in his Liberal Conspiracy (1989) where he talks about a struggle for the mind "of Postwar Europe" and the world at large.[4]

Origins, 1948–1950

The CCF was founded on 26 June 1950 in West Berlin, which had just endured months of Soviet blockade. Its stated purpose was to find ways to counter the view that liberal democracy was less compatible with culture than communism. In practical terms it aimed to challenge the post-war sympathies with the USSR of many Western intellectuals and fellow travellers, particularly among liberals and the non-Communist Left.

Formation of the CCF came in response to a series of events orchestrated by the Soviet Union: the World Congress of Intellectuals in Defense of Peace in Wroclaw (Poland) in August 1948; a similar event in April the following year in Paris, the World Congress of Peace Partisans;[5] and their culmination in the creation of the World Peace Council, which in March 1950 issued the Stockholm Appeal.[6] As part of this campaign there had also been an event in New York City in March 1949: the Cultural and Scientific Conference for World Peace at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel was attended by many prominent U.S. liberals, leftists and pacifists who called for peace with Joseph Stalin's Soviet Union.[7]

The founding conference of the Congress for Cultural Freedom was attended by leading intellectuals from the U.S. and Western Europe. Among those who came to Berlin in June 1950 were writers, philosophers, critics and historians: Franz Borkenau, Karl Jaspers, John Dewey, Ignazio Silone, James Burnham, Hugh Trevor-Roper, Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., Bertrand Russell, Ernst Reuter, Raymond Aron, Alfred Ayer, Benedetto Croce, Arthur Koestler, Richard Löwenthal, Melvin J. Lasky, Tennessee Williams, Irving Brown, and Sidney Hook. There were conservatives among the participants, but non-Communist (or former Communist) left-wingers were more numerous.[8] The man who would become the "godfather of Neoconservatism" Irving Kristol was also present.[3][9]

The Manifesto of the Congress was drafted by Arthur Koestler, with amendments added on a motion proposed by historian Hugh Trevor-Roper and philosopher A.J. Ayer.[10]

Executive Committee and Secretariat

An Executive Committee was elected in 1950 at the founding conference in Berlin, with seven members and six alternate members: Irving Brown (Haakon Lie), Arthur Koestler (Raymond Aron), Eugen Kogon (Carlo Schmid), David Rousset (Georges Altman), Ignazio Silone (Nicola Chiaromonte), Stephen Spender (Tosco Fyvel) and Denis de Rougemont who became President of the Committee.[11]

The management of the CCF was entrusted to its secretariat, headed by Michael Josselson.[3] By the time Josselson joined the Congress of Cultural Freedom in 1950 he was "undoubtedly a CIA officer".[12] A polyglot able to converse fluently in four languages (English, Russian, German and French), Josselson was heavily involved in the CCF's growing range of activities – its periodicals, worldwide conferences and international seminars – until his resignation in 1967, following the exposure of funding by the CIA.[13]

Activities, 1950–1966

At its height, the CCF had offices in thirty-five countries, employed dozens of personnel, and published over twenty prestigious magazines. It held art exhibitions, owned a news and features service, organized high-profile international conferences, and rewarded musicians and artists with prizes and public performances.[1][3]

Between 1950 and 1966 the Congress sponsored numerous conferences. A selective list describes 16 conferences in the 1950s held principally in Western Europe but also in Rangoon, Mexico City, Tokyo, Ibadan (Nigeria) and South Vietnam: the Founding Conference in Berlin was followed in 1951 by the First Asian Conference on Cultural Freedom, held in Bombay. A further 21 conferences over an even wider geographical area are listed for the first half of the 1960s.[14]

In the early 1960s, the CCF mounted a campaign against the Chilean poet Pablo Neruda, an ardent communist. The campaign intensified when it appeared that Neruda was a candidate for the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1964 but he was also published in Mundo Nuevo, a CCF-sponsored periodical.[15]

CIA involvement revealed, 1966

In April 1966, The New York Times ran a series of five articles on the purposes and methods of the CIA.[16][17][18][19][20]

The third of these 1966 articles began to detail false-front organizations and the secret transfer of CIA funds to, for example, the US State Department or to the United States Information Agency (USIA) which "may help finance a scholarly inquiry and publication, or the agency may channel research money through foundations – legitimate ones or dummy fronts."[21] The New York Times cited, amongst others, the CIA's funding of the Congress for Cultural Freedom, Encounter magazine, 'several American book publishers', the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Center for International Studies,[22] and a foreign-aid project in South Vietnam run by Michigan State University.[23]

In 1967, the US magazines Ramparts and The Saturday Evening Post reported on the CIA's funding of a number of anti-communist cultural organizations aimed at winning the support of supposedly Soviet-sympathizing liberals worldwide.[24] These reports were lent credence by a statement made by a former CIA covert operations director admitting to CIA financing and operation of the CCF.[25] The CIA website states that "the Congress for Cultural Freedom is widely considered one of the CIA's more daring and effective Cold War covert operations."[7]

That same year in May, Thomas Braden, head of the CCF's parent body the International Organizations Division, responded to the Ramparts report in an article entitled "I'm Glad the CIA is 'Immoral'", in the Saturday Evening Post, defending the activities of his unit within the CIA. For more than ten years, Braden admitted, the CIA had subsidized Encounter through the CCF, which it also funded; one of the magazine's staff, he added, was a CIA agent.[26]


In 1967, the organization was renamed the International Association for Cultural Freedom (IACF) and continued to exist with funding from the Ford Foundation. It inherited "the remaining magazines and national committees, the practice of international seminars, the regional programs, and the ideal of a worldwide community of intellectuals." There was also, until 1970, "some continuity of personnel".[27]

Under Shepard Stone and Pierre Emmanuel the dominant policy of the new Association shifted from positions held by its predecessor. No "public anti-Soviet protests" were issued, "not even in support of the harassed Solzhenitsyn and Sakharov". The culmination of this approach was a vast seminar at Princeton on "The United States: Its Problems, Impact, and Image in the World" (December 1968) where unsuccessful attempts were made to engage with the New Left. From 1968 onwards national committees and magazines (see CCF/IACF Publications below) shut down one after another. In 1977 the Paris office closed and two years later the Association voted to dissolve itself.[28]

Certain of the publications that began as CCF-supported vehicles secured a readership and ongoing relevance that, with other sources of funding, enabled them to long outlast the parent organisation. Encounter continued publishing until 1991, as did Survey, while the Australian Quadrant and the China Quarterly survive to this day. While the revelation of CIA funding led to some resignations, notably that of Stephen Spender from Encounter, outside Europe the impact was more dramatic: in Uganda President Milton Obote had Rajat Neogy, the editor of the flourishing Transition magazine, arrested and imprisoned. After Neogy left Uganda in 1968 the magazine ceased to exist.

The European Intellectual Mutual Aid Fund (Fondation pour une Entraide Intellectuelle Européenne) set up to support intellectuals in Central Europe, began life as an affiliate of the Congress for Cultural Freedom. In 1991 it merged with the Open Society Foundations, set up and supported by financier and philanthropist George Soros.[29]

The records of the International Association for Cultural Freedom and its predecessor the Congress for Cultural Freedom are today stored at the Library of the University of Chicago in its Special Collections Research Center.


Some of the Congress's publications are the following:

Name / Country / Date / Notes

Aportes / ILARI / closed 1972 / Produced by the Latin American Institute for International Relations (ILARI), established in 1966, which was closed by IACF in 1972.[28]

Black Orpheus / Nigeria / 1957–1975 / Founded by German expatriate editor and scholar Ulli Beier, Black Orpheus has been described as a powerful catalyst for artistic awakening throughout West Africa.[30]

Cadernos Brasileiros / Brazil / 1959–1971 / A quarterly (until 1963), later bi-monthly, literary magazine.[31] ICAF subsidy ceased in 1971.[28]

Censorship / United Kingdom / 1964–1967 / Edited by Murray Mindlin the six issues dealt with censorship around the world. (In 1972 Index on Censorship, a publication covering the same themes, was founded by Stephen Spender.)[32]

China Report / India / 1964–1970s / Established at the New Delhi bureau of the Congress, China Report became a bimonthly journalistic enterprise.[33] After its IACF subsidy ended in 1971 it found other sources of funding.[28]

The China Quarterly / United Kingdom / 1960 to present / Became a leading journal on Communist China (and also Taiwan) by reason of its lack of rivals in the field and the scholarly standard of its articles.[34] When its IACF subsidy ceased in 1968 it found other sources of funding.[28]

Cuadernos del Congreso por la Libertad de la Cultura / Paris, intended for distribution in Latin America / 1953–1963 / Edited by Julián Gorkin, assisted by Ignacio Iglesias and Luis Mercier Verga – a cultural quarterly magazine that reached 100 issues.[35]

Encounter / United Kingdom / 1953–1991 / A literary-political magazine founded by Stephen Spender and Irving Kristol. By 1963 its circulation had risen to 34,000[36] and that year the magazine secured independent funding.[37] Edited from 1958 onwards by Melvin J. Lasky.

Examen / Mexico / 1958–1962 / A cultural magazine.[38]

Forum / Austria / 1954–1965 / A political and cultural magazine in founded by Friederich Torberg and others. In 1965 it was taken over by Gunter Nenning and became Neues Forum, a publication devoted to Christian-Communist dialogue.[39]

Hiwar / Lebanon / 1961–1967 / [40]

Informes de China / Argentina / 1960s / Set up to provide Latin America with information about China.[41]

Jiyu (Freedom) / Japan / 1960 to present / One of the most heavily subsidized of all the CFF magazines.[3] Edited by Hoki Ishihara.[42] The chief editor Isihara found other sources of funding when subsidies from Paris and the national committee ceased to exist.[43]

Kulturkontakt / Sweden / 1954–1960 / Bimonthly political and cultural magazine, published by Svenska kommittén för kulturens frihet (Swedish Committee for Cultural Freedom).[44] Publishers were Ture Nerman (1954–57) and Ingemar Hedenius (1957–60). Edited by Birgitta Stenberg, Kurt Salomonson and Bengt Alexanderson.[45]

Minerva / United Kingdom / 1962 to present / A quarterly started by sociologist Edward Shils to address issues relating the "worldwide intellectual community", and particularly the growth in universities.[46]

Der Monat / Germany / 1948–1987 / A German-language journal airlifted into Berlin during the 1948 Soviet blockade and edited by Melvin J. Lasky until 1978, when it was purchased by Die Zeit. ICAF subsidy ceased in 1968.[28] It continued as a quarterly until 1987.

Mundo Nuevo / Latin America / 1963–1971 / Successor to Cuadernos (see above). It published established and political writers, holding a variety of views such as Pablo Neruda and Jorge Luis Borges,[15] ceasing to exit when IACF funding ended in 1971.[28]

Perspektiv / Denmark / 1953–69[47] / Described itself as "a magazine for politics, science and culture". Published by Hans Reitzel, edited by Henning Fonsmark[48] and H.C. Branner. Entered a partnership with Selskabet for Frihet og Kultur (Association for Freedom and Culture), the CCF's Danish counterpart, in 1956. Directly funded by the CCF from at least 1960, when the organization established an office in Copenhagen.[49]

Preuves / France / 1951–1970s / A cultural, intellectual and literary monthly magazine. CCF's first magazine. Preuves means “proof” or “evidence” in French. Editor was François Bondy, a Swiss writer.[3]

Quadrant / Australia / 1956 to present / A literary journal published by the Australian Association for Cultural Freedom, edited by Catholic poet James McAuley, had an "anticommunist thrust".[3][50][51] ICAF subsidy of the Association and of Quadrant ceased in 1972.[28]

Quest / India / 1955–1958 / English only.[3] In 1971 IACF stopped supporting New Delhi and Calcutta offices.[28]

Sasangge / South Korea / 1953–1970 / [30]

Science and Freedom / -- / 1954–1961 / Edited by Michael Polanyi. Biannual bulletin with "a tiny readership"[3] of 3,000. In 1961 the Congress Executive replaced it with Minerva (see above).

Social Science Review / -- / -- / ICAF subsidy ceased in 1971; the Review found other sources of funding.[28]

Solidarity / Philippines / 1960s & 1970s / A cultural, intellectual and literary monthly magazine.[30] After its IACF subsidy ended in 1971 it found other sources of funding.[28]

Soviet Survey (became Survey) / -- / 1955–1989 / At first a monthly newsletter edited by Walter Laqueur, the CCF’s official representative in Israel. After 1964 became a quarterly journal, edited by Leopold Labedz, focused on Soviet bloc. IACF subsidy ceased in early 1970s; the magazine found other sources of funding.[28]

Tempo Presente / Italy / 1956–1968[28] / Edited by Ignazio Silone and Nicola Chiaromonte.[3]

Transition Magazine[30] / Uganda / 1961–1968[52] / Editor Rajat Neogy.[52] Sales reached 12,000 in early 1960s (a quarter of them in the US) but the arrest, detention and subsequent emigration of editor Neogy in 1968 marked the end of this controversial literary-political magazine.[53]


• Bahr, Ehrhard (2008). Weimar on the Pacific: German Exile Culture in Los Angeles and the Crisis of Modernism. University of California Press. ISBN 978-0520257955.
• Berghahn, Volker R.: America and the Intellectual Cold Wars in Europe. Shepard Stone between Philanthropy, Academy, and Diplomacy. Princeton: Princeton UP, 2001. Addresses links between Ford Foundation and CCF.
• Coleman, Peter, The Liberal Conspiracy: The Congress for Cultural Freedom and the Struggle for the Mind of Postwar Europe, New York: Free Press, Collier Macmillan, 1989.
• Michael Hochgeschwender, Freiheit in der Offensive? Der Kongreß für kulturelle Freiheit und die Deutschen, München, 1998 (comprising academic study on the origins, in German).
• Andrew N. Rubin,: Archives of Authority: Empire, Culture, and the Cold War. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2012. Addresses the effects of CCF's activities on the visibility and canonization of writers.
• Frances Stonor Saunders, The Cultural Cold War: The CIA and the World of Arts and Letters, 2000, The New Press, (ISBN 1-56584-596-X). Originally published in the UK as Who Paid the Piper?: CIA and the Cultural Cold War, 1999, Granta, ISBN 1862070296.
• Wellens, Ian (2002). Music on the Frontline: Nicolas Nabokov's Struggle against Communism and Middlebrow Culture. Aldershot: Ashgate. ISBN 0-7546-0635-X

See also

• CIA and the Cultural Cold War
• Who Paid the Piper?


1. Frances Stonor Saunders, "Modern Art was CIA 'weapon'", The Independent, October 22, 1995.
2. Scionti, Andrea (2020-02-01). ""I Am Afraid Americans Cannot Understand": The Congress for Cultural Freedom in France and Italy, 1950–1957". Journal of Cold War Studies. 22 (1): 89–124. doi:10.1162/jcws_a_00927. ISSN 1520-3972.
3. Frances Stonor Saunders, The Cultural Cold War: The CIA and the World of Arts and Letters, The New Press, 1999.
4. Peter Coleman, The Liberal Conspiracy: The Congress for Cultural Freedom and the Struggle for Mind of Postwar Europe, The Free Press: New York, 1989.
5. Milorad Popov, "The World Council of Peace," in Witold S. Sworakowski (ed.), World Communism: A Handbook, 1918–1965.Stanford, CA: Hoover Institution Press, 1973, p. 488.
6. Suslov, M., The Defence of Peace and the Struggle Against the Warmongers, Cominform, 1950.
7. Origins of the Congress for Cultural Freedom, 1949-50
8. K. A. Jelenski, History And Hope: Tradition, Ideology And Change In Modern Society, (1962); reprinted 1970, Praeger Press.
9. Jacob Heilbrunn, They Knew They Were Right: The Rise of the Neocons, Random House LLC, 2009. ISBN 0307472485
10. See The Liberal Conspiracy, Appendix A, pp. 249–251, for the text of this Manifesto.
11. Coleman, p. 37-40.
12. Coleman, p. 41.
13. Coleman, p. 232.
14. Coleman, The Liberal Conspiracy, pp. 253–257
15. Coleman, p. 194.
16. "The C.I.A.: Maker of Policy, or Tool? Agency Raises Questions Around World; Survey Discloses Strict Controls But Reputation of Agency Is Found to Make It a Burden on U.S. Action", New York Times, April 25, 1966, p. 1.
17. "How C.I.A Put an 'Instant Air Force' Into Congo to Carry Out United States Policy", New York Times, April 26, 1966, p. 30.
18. "C.I.A. Operations: A Plot Scuttled, or, How Kennedy in '62 Undid Sugar Sabotage", New York Times, April 28, 1966, p. 28.
19. "C.I.A Operations: Man at Helm, Not the System, Viewed as Key to Control of Agency", New York Times, April 29, 1966, p. 18.
20. Hugh Wilford, The CIA, the British Left and the Cold War: Calling the Tune? Studies in Intelligence; Routledge, 2013. ISBN 1135294704.
21. "C.I.A Is Spying From 100 Miles Up; Satellites Probe Secrets of the Soviet Union", New York Times, April 27, 1966, p. 28.
22. "M.I.T. Cuts Agency Ties", New York Times, April 26, 1966.
23. Francis Frascina, "Institutions, Culture, and America's 'Cold War Years': The Making of Greenberg's 'Modernist Painting", Oxford Art Journal, Vol. 26, No. 1 (2003), pp. 71-97.
24. Hilton Kramer, "What was the Congress for Cultural Freedom?" The New Criterion, Volume 8, January 1990, p. 7.
25. Peter Coleman, The Liberal Conspiracy, Free Press, Collier Macmillan, 1989.
26. Thomas Braden Archived 2009-09-03 at the Wayback Machine
27. Coleman, pp. 235-240.
28. Coleman, p. 240.
29. GUILHOT, NICOLAS (2006-01-01). "A Network of Influential Friendships: The Fondation Pour Une Entraide Intellectuelle Européenne and East–West Cultural Dialogue, 1957–1991". Minerva. 44 (4): 379–409. doi:10.1007/s11024-006-9014-y. JSTOR 41821373. – via ScienceDirect (Subscription may be required or content may be available in libraries.)
30. Andrew N. Rubin, Archives of Authority: Empire, Culture, and the Cold War
31. Kristine Vanden Berghe: Intelectuales y anticomunismo: la revista "Cuadernos brasileiros" (1959–1970), Leuven University Press, 1997. ISBN 90-6186-803-3.
32. Coleman, p. 193.
33. Coleman, p. 196.
34. Coleman, p. 195.
35. Ruiz Galvete, Marta: Cuadernos del Congreso por la Libertad de la Cultura: anticomunismo y guerra fría en América Latinaen "El Argonauta español ", Numéro 3, 2006 – retrieved October 19, 2009.
36. Coleman, p. 185.
37. Coleman, p. 221.
38. Ocampo, Aurora M. (ed.), Diccionario de escritores mexicanos, Siglo XX, UNAM, Mexico, 2000 (Volume V, p. xviii).
39. Coleman, p. 186
40. Scott Lucas, Freedom's War: The US Crusade Against the Soviet Union, 1945–56.
41. Coleman, p. 196
42. Solidarity, Volume 9
43. Coleman, p. 188.
44. "USA paid for propaganda in Sweden in the 1950s?". Sveriges Radio. Retrieved 22 November 2016.
45. "Kulturkontakt". Libris. Retrieved 22 November 2016.
46. Coleman, p. 197.
47. "Historiske tidsskrifter". Retrieved 22 November 2016.
48. Scott-Smith, Giles; Krabbendam, Hans (2003). The Cultural Cold War in Western Europe, 1945–60. London: Frank Cass Publishers. p. 245.
49. "Kold kulturkamp". Dagbladet Information. Retrieved 22 November 2016.
50. The Michael Josselson Papers at the Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center.
51. Pybus, Cassandra, "CIA as Culture Vultures", Jacket, July 12, 2000.
52. The Salisbury Review, Volumes 9–10.
53. Coleman, p. 192.

External links

• The Cultural Cold War
• The Ghostwriter et la CIA
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Re: The Ford Foundation and the CIA, by James Petras

Postby admin » Wed May 06, 2020 5:34 am

Was Modern Art a Weapon of the CIA?
by Alastair Sooke
4 October 2016




In the immediate aftermath of World War Two, something exciting happened in the art world in New York. A strange but irresistible energy started to crackle across the city, as artists who had struggled for years in poverty and obscurity suddenly found self-confidence and success. Together, they formed a movement that became known, in time, as Abstract Expressionism. It is currently the subject of a major exhibition, featuring 164 artworks by 30 artists (including Willem de Kooning, Jackson Pollock, and Mark Rothko), at the Royal Academy of Arts in London.

One of the most remarkable things about Abstract Expressionism was the speed with which it rose to international prominence. Although the artists associated with it took a long time to find their signature styles, once the movement had crystallised, by the late ‘40s, it rapidly achieved first notoriety and then respect. By the ‘50s, it was generally accepted that the most exciting advances in painting and sculpture were taking place in New York rather than Paris. In 1957, a year after Pollock’s death in a car crash, the Metropolitan Museum paid $30,000 for his Autumn Rhythm – an unprecedented sum of money for a painting by a contemporary artist at the time.

Jackson Pollock, Autumn Rhythm, 1957. The Metropolitan Museum in New York acquired Jackson Pollock’s Autumn Rhythm for an unprecedented sum in 1957, a year after the artist’s death (Credit: Metropolitan Museum)

The following year, The New American Painting, an influential exhibition organised by New York’s Museum of Modern Art, began a year-long tour of European cities including Basel, Berlin, Brussels, Milan, Paris, and London. The triumph of Abstract Expressionism was complete.

Unwitting helpers?

Before long, though, the backlash had begun. First came Pop Art, which wrested attention away from Abstract Expressionism at the start of the ‘60s. Then came the rumour-mongers, whispering that the swiftness of Abstract Expressionism’s success was somehow fishy.

Jackson Pollock (Credit: Credit: Getty Images). Pollock was a heavy drinker who lived a reclusive life, cut short by a car accident at the age of 44 (Credit: Getty Images)

In 1973, in an article in Artforum magazine, the art critic Max Kozloff examined post-war American painting in the context of the Cold War. He claimed to be reacting against the “self-congratulatory mood” of recent publications such as Irving Sandler’s The Triumph of American Painting (1970), the first history of Abstract Expressionism. Kozloff went on to argue that Abstract Expressionism was “a form of benevolent propaganda”, in sync with the post-war political ideology of the American government.

In many ways, the idea seemed preposterous. After all, most of the Abstract Expressionists were volatile outsiders. Pollock once said that everyone at his high school in Los Angeles thought he was a “rotten rebel from Russia”. According to David Anfam, co-curator of the Royal Academy exhibition, “Rothko said he was an anarchist. Barnett Newman was a declared anarchist – he wrote an introduction to Kropotkin’s book on anarchism. So here you had this nexus of non-conformist artists, who were completely alienated from American culture. They were the opposite of the Cold Warriors.”

Despite this, however, Kozloff’s ideas took hold. A few years before they were published, in 1967, the New York Times had revealed that the liberal anti-Communist magazine Encounter had been indirectly funded by the CIA. As a result, people started to become suspicious. Could it be that the CIA also had a hand in promoting Abstract Expressionism on the world stage? Was Pollock, wittingly or not, a propagandist for the US government?

Soft power

A number of essays, articles and books followed Kozloff’s piece, all arguing that the CIA had somehow manipulated Abstract Expressionism. In 1999, the British journalist and historian Frances Stonor Saunders published a book about the CIA and the “cultural Cold War” in which she asserted: “Abstract Expressionism was being deployed as a Cold War weapon.” A synthesis of her argument is available online, in an article that she wrote for the Independent newspaper in 1995. “In the manner of a Renaissance prince – except that it acted secretly – the CIA fostered and promoted American Abstract Expressionist painting around the world for more than 20 years,” she wrote.

Mark Rothko, No15 Dark Greens on Blue with Green Band,1957. Rothko’s No 15 Dark Greens on Blue with Green Band dates from 1957 (Credit: Kate Rothko Prizel and Christopher Rothko ARS, NY and DACS, London)

The gist of her case goes something like this. We know that the CIA bankrolled cultural initiatives as part of its propaganda war against the Soviet Union. It did so indirectly, on what was called a “long leash”, via organisations such as the Congress for Cultural Freedom (CCF), an anti-Communist advocacy group active in 35 countries, which the CIA helped to establish and fund. It was the CCF that sponsored the launch of Encounter magazine in 1953, for instance. It also paid for the Boston Symphony Orchestra to travel to Paris to participate in a festival of modern music.

According to Saunders, the CCF financed several high-profile exhibitions of Abstract Expressionism during the ‘50s, including The New American Painting, which toured Europe between 1958 and 1959. Supposedly, the Tate Gallery couldn’t afford to bring the exhibition to London – so an American millionaire called Julius Fleischmann stepped in, stumping up the cash so that it could travel to Britain. Fleischmann was the president of a body called the Farfield Foundation, which was funded by the CIA. It is therefore possible to argue that important British abstract painters, such as John Hoyland, who were profoundly influenced by the Tate’s exhibition in ’59, were shaped by America’s spymasters.

Nelson Rockefeller. Nelson Rockefeller was the president of MoMA in the 1940s and 1950s and had close ties with figures in US intelligence (Credit: Getty Images)

Saunders also highlighted links between the CIA and New York’s Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), which was instrumental in promoting Abstract Expressionism. Nelson Rockefeller, the president of MoMA during the ‘40s and ‘50s, had close ties with the US intelligence community. So did Thomas Braden, who directed cultural activities at the CIA: prior to joining “the Company”, he was MoMA’s executive secretary.

‘Shrewd and cynical’

Even today, however, the story of the CIA’s involvement with Abstract Expressionism remains contentious. According to Irving Sandler, who is now 91, it is totally untrue. Speaking to me by phone from his apartment in New York’s Greenwich Village, he said: “There was absolutely no involvement of any government agency. I haven’t seen a single fact that indicates there was this kind of collusion. Surely, by now, something – anything – would have emerged. And isn’t it interesting that the federal government at the time considered Abstract Expressionism a Communist plot to undermine American society?”

David Anfam is more circumspect. He says it is “a well-documented fact” that the CIA co-opted Abstract Expressionism in their propaganda war against Russia. “Even The New American Painting [exhibition] had some CIA funding behind it,” he says. According to Anfam, it is easy to see why the CIA wished to promote Abstract Expressionism. “It’s a very shrewd and cynical strategy,” he explains, “because it showed that you could do whatever you liked in America.” By the ‘50s, Abstract Expressionism was bound up with the concept of individual freedom: its canvases were understood as expressions of the subjective inner lives of the artists who painted them.

Franz Klein. Franz Kline’s works are more rigorously composed and less spontaneous than those of other Abstract Expressionists (Credit: Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago)

As a result, the movement was a useful foil to Russia’s official Soviet Realist style, which championed representative painting. “America was the land of the free, whereas Russia was locked up, culturally speaking,” Anfam says, characterising the perception that the CIA wished to foster during the Cold War.

This isn’t to say, of course, that the artists themselves were complicit with the CIA, or even aware that it was funding Abstract Expressionist exhibitions. Still, whatever the truth of the extent of the CIA’s financial involvement with Abstract Expressionism, Anfam believes that it was “the best thing the institution ever paid for”. He smiles. “I’d much rather they spent money on Abstract Expressionism than toppling left-wing dictators.”

Alastair Sooke is art critic of The Daily Telegraph.
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