Apr 11, 2023Liked by Alexander Adams

The Rockefeller family believed they could seduce modern leftist artists by coopting them. Commissioned murals, founded MoMA, etc. The idea was to present the West as a bastion of freedom. Therefore, enormous propaganda efforts went into the promotion of modernism in art (unnecessary to learn how to draw or acquire technical skill) and, later, racial and sexual equality.

Gloria Steinem worked for the Independent Research Service, a CIA front organization, in the 50s and 60s, meant to undermine communist youth festivals. https://www.chicagotribune.com/opinion/commentary/ct-gloria-steinem-cia-20151025-story.html

Congress for Cultural Freedom, main CIA arts front. MoMA heavily involved with Coordinator of Inter-American Affairs committee in 50s, CIA front headed by Nelson Rockefeller. MoMA’s International Program funded by CIA front Rockefeller Brothers Fund for $125,000, launched a massive AbEx push in Europe. “Twelve Contemporary American Painters and Sculptors” toured European capitols starting with Paris in 1954-5. Another, Young Painters, opened in Rome. Eisenhower called modern art a “pillar of liberty.” (Saunders, p. 262-72.)

MoMa’s International Program later expanded as the International Arts Council. Huge show “Antagonismes” opened in the Louvre’s Musee de Arts Decoratifs January 1960. Mark Rothko, Franz Kline and other New York School AbEx’s.

“Repudiating nationalist claims for Abstract Expressionism, in the 1970s [Motherwell] supported the English abstract artist Patrick Heron when he challenged America’s right to exert a monopoly in cultural leadership . . .” (Saunders, p. 276.)

“Ad Reinhardt was the only Abstract Expressionist (sic) who continued to cleave to the left, and as such he was all but completely ignored by the official art world until the 1960s.” (Saunders, p. 277.)

“Reinhardt roundly condemned his fellow artists for succumbing to the temptations of greed and ambition. He called Rothko a ‘Vogue magazine cold-water-flat fauve’, and Pollack a ‘Harper’s Bazaar bum’. Barnett Newman was ‘the avant-garde huckster . . .’” So, there was some sort of buyer’s remorse floating around. Reinhardt died in 1967.

I think it was a combination of former leftists who felt guilty about “selling out” and a vague sense of being used by the establishment for political purposes. Also, the 60s saw the beginnings of the Great Society, Viet Nam and a shift back to the left for the cool kids. In footnote 3, chapter 16, Saunders writes that the House Committee on Un-American Activities compiled a detailed list of communist artists of which Philip Guston was one. Whether he somehow discovered CIA involvement or not Guston had a violent reaction. CIA in that period was all over the place, including MoMA.

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If you don’t mind, another point: Beginning in the 70s women artists would figuratively mutilate themselves in order to punish men. It was actually referred to as scatological art – part of the feminist vanguard. I’d suggest that Guston pretty much did the same with his own work once he discovered his association with the CIA mission. He needed to purge himself from feelings of betrayal to his previous political/social allegiance. This would explain his bizarre rage against his own AbEx work. His inner torment manifested itself by making really ugly (scatological) paintings to punish those who duped him – and to punish himself. Whoever heard of an artist raging against his former work like that? Normally, it’s just a natural progression. Happens all the time.

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I agree it took some kind of nerve or fortitude for him to break with his gallery and friends. But I question his sincerity. Or, by the look of his hysterical reaction to AbEx maybe he felt bad about abandoning polemical art and making money off of – let’s face it – a decorative art form. It also may have dawned on him that AbEx was pushed by the CIA as a weapon against uptight communist social realism. [See, Frances Stonor Saunders, The Cultural Cold War, The CiA and the World of Arts and Letters. https://www.amazon.com/Cultural-Cold-War-World-Letters/dp/1595589147/ref=sr_1_1?crid=SFNBY74Z5M4A&keywords=Frances+Stonor+Saunders%2C+the+cultural+cold+war&qid=1681150650&s=books&sprefix=frances+stonor+saunders%2C+the+cultural+cold+war%2Cstripbooks%2C2092&sr=1-1] Therefore, he must have felt used and had to do a kind of penance by lashing himself.

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Guston abandons abstract art in the wake of Pop and the return to figuration in the late 50s- early 60s - as I wrote he was the most famous of the AbEx to have a crisis of faith -on the other had he had immediate critical and market success with his return to making images

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While well written - your essay is miss-leading - there is not enough room here to go into your various misrepresentations - though Guston was the most successful AbEx painters to return to figuration he was not the only one - even Pollack experiments with image making as did de Kooning

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