American art before and after World War II

Write a 1,050- to 1,400-word paper on American art before and after World War II.Include an examination of the artwork of three artists total. Select two artists who worked during the Great Depression and one Abstract Expressionist artist.Include discussion of the following in your paper:At least one example of art from each artist with a description of the subject and style of the work.An examination of the purpose of artwork created during the Great Depression. Were your examples used as tools for social reform? What other types of messaging was present in works from the 1930s?A description of how Abstract Expressionism emerged in post-World War II America and how it differed from the art work of the 1930s.A description of the style of your Abstract Expressionist artist and why he or she was interested in this style of abstraction; was there a “meaning” to their work?Format your paper according course level APA guidelines
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Art History ISSN 0141-6790 Vol. 26 No. 4
September 2003 pp. 533–555
Transatlantic Cultural Politics in the late 1950s:
the Leaders and Specialists Grant Program
Nancy Jachec
Within the revival of interest in international cultural relations during the Cold
War a number of scholars have focused upon the political machinations behind
American Abstract Expressionism’s success in Western Europe.1 This ‘second
wave’ of Abstract Expressionism’s political history is distinguishable from the
pioneering studies of the early 1970s by its reliance upon archival sources to
substantiate claims of government involvement. The recent declassification of
many American documents has made this type of inquiry possible, and the
resulting studies have demonstrated that Abstract Expressionism’s international
success was indeed indebted to the United States government, which had sought
to redress the country’s parochial cultural status abroad.2
There are, however, two persistent problems in current understanding of the
politics of Abstract Expressionism, which tend to reduce the cultural and
diplomatic initiatives abroad of American intelligence and cultural institutions in
the 1950s to the bald conquest of Western Europe by American culture (plate
3.1). Firstly, it is generally assumed that Europeans were passive in the face of
American cultural expansion; consequently, comparatively little work has been
done on the way in which American Abstract Expressionism was actually
disseminated in Western Europe.3 Secondly, the blanket explanation of cultural
imperialism has more or less overlooked the specific policy objectives that may
have been pursued by the United States government through its support for
Abstract Expressionism.
Recently declassified documents concerning the Leaders and Specialists
Grant Program (LSGP), however, indicate that the promotion of Abstract
Expressionism in Western Europe was indeed policy-specific, and heavily reliant
upon European cultural figures in its selection and presentation as a shared
European and American, or, in other words, transatlantic practice. In spite of
the fact that the documents currently available on the LSGP are incomplete,
there is enough evidence to show that it was largely responsible for the
organization, circulation and resounding critical success of Jackson Pollock
1912–1956 and The New American Painting, the two watershed exhibitions of
American Abstract Expressionist painting that toured Western Europe in 1958/
59, and which are widely held to mark the emergence of an American culture
equal to its economic and military power. On the strength of this new archival
evidence, it will be argued here that the LSGP’s support for Abstract
Expressionism was designed covertly to promote a transatlantic European
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TRANSATLANTIC CULTURAL POLITICS IN THE LATE 1950s
union through the European Movement, and that this was an initiative in which
European cultural and political figures were clearly involved. While the
procedural use of cultural diplomacy to promote European unification ‘has
attracted little scholarly attention and remains poorly understood’, Robert J.
Aldrich has made some valuable observations on US covert cultural operations
during the Cold War. In particular, he has noted that the American agency
involved generally ‘made no attempt to manipulate organizations or individuals.
Instead, it sought genuinely independent vehicles that seemed complementary to
American policy, and tried to speed them up.’4 The LSGP, one of the extensive
but little-known educational exchange programmes administered by the State
Department’s International Educational Exchange Service (IEES), was an
important part of the State Department’s covert effort to promote European
unification. Hundreds of foreign politicians, civic leaders, scholars and cultural
figures were brought to the United States on one- to two-month grants on this
programme in order to gain first-hand experience of American society. They
were not expected to have an immediate or direct propagandistic value by
promoting ‘Americanism’ upon their return either as a set of political or social
values, or as a lifestyle. Rather, the direct exposure of intellectual ‘elites’ to
aspects of American society within their areas of specialist interest was intended
to help grantees from a favourable opinion of American practices and
institutions, which they would spread within their spheres of influence. Above
all, it was meant to encourage recalcitrant European intellectuals to see the
United States as a natural partner and ally, thereby easing their worries over the
United States’ involvement in the European Union.
Originally set up by the Army immediately after the war in order to renew
democratic principles in West Germany under Allied occupation, the LSPG was
taken over in 1950 by the State Department’s Bureau of Cultural Affairs (CU),
under the office of the IEES, and immediately expanded to include the rest of
Western Europe, the Near and Far East, Africa and Latin America, officially in
order to promote ‘mutual understanding’ between the people of the United
States and other countries.5 (see Appendix 1, page 551) While grants to figures
in the visual arts would never make up a significant percentage of the awards of
any given year, in the summer of 1955 a decision was taken by the Operations
Coordinating Board (OCB), established by Eisenhower in the Autumn of 1953
to run the State Department’s cultural campaigns, to encourage art exchanges
‘through indigenous European outlets insofar as possible’.6 In order to further
ensure minimal attribution to the United States, the OCB advised the use of
‘leader grants’ to carefully selected individuals from the European art world, so
that American cultural figures could observe the tastes and preferences of
European cultural figures themselves, and thus tailor exhibitions that would
support a transatlantic interpretation of American culture. To this end,
European grantees in the visual arts were given the lead in selecting, interpreting
and displaying American fine art in their own countries, and it was through the
LSGP that Abstract Expressionism was identified and circulated in Western
Europe as a shared cultural practice.
The very idea of using Europeans to identify the kinds of American art that
would be effective in supporting American policies abroad dates to 1950, in
534
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3.1 Mark Tansey, The Triumph of the New York School, 1984. Oil on canvas, 188 304.8 cm. Reproduced courtesy of the Gagosian Gallery, New York.
In the centre, Andre´ Breton, left, flanked by luminaries of the pre-war Parisian avant gardes, signs a treaty of surrender proffered by Clement
Greenberg. The latter is surrounded by the American Abstract Expressionists, whom he championed. Picasso, to the immediate left of Breton, is
clearly distressed, whilst Pollock, just to the left of Greenberg, watches the transfer of power with interest, hands in pockets.
This picture was painted in 1984, one year after Serge Guilbaut’s How New York Stole the Idea of Modern Art first appeared. His book capped
a wave of interpretations in the 1970s of American Abstract Expressionism’s success in Europe, which focused on the US government’s political
and ideological motives for promoting that movement. These accounts were soon anthologised in Francis Frascina’s Pollock and After: The
Critical Debate, which appeared in 1985.
TRANSATLANTIC CULTURAL POLITICS IN THE LATE 1950s
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TRANSATLANTIC CULTURAL POLITICS IN THE LATE 1950s
response to the findings of a review commissioned late in his presidency by
Harry Truman from the Advisory Commission on Educational Exchange on
the role of the fine arts in Euro-American relations. In late March of that year
the Commission observed that no particular agency in the government as a
whole had any real confidence in its understanding of fine art, and therefore
recommended that ‘key individuals in the field of fine arts’ in Europe be brought
to the United States on the LSGP in order to learn which type of art would be
most effective in promoting Euro-American relations.7 The Commission also
advised that there was slim prospect of overturning the long-standing hostility
that Congress had towards funding cultural programmes.8 Reliance on advice
from the specialists within American art institutions, and the launching of a
‘counter-offensive’ to the Soviet’s ‘new cultural drive y principally by private
enterprise’ was therefore also recommended.9
The Museum of Modern Art in New York appears to have been the key
institution involved with the LSGP, and it was under its auspices that Jackson
Pollock and The New American Painting were organized. Throughout the 1950s
the government relied heavily on the Museum of Modern Art’s International
Program (IP) and International Council (IC) for its representation of modern
American art in Western Europe.10 The history of these organizations is well
documented, but it is worth noting here that while they were ostensibly nongovernmental, they did have extensive connections with government agencies
and programmes such as the OCB, the United States Information Agency (USIA)
and several international educational exchange programmes, such as the Peopleto-People and LSGP programmes. The body coordinating the relationship
between the government and MOMA was the State Department’s Advisory
Commission on the Arts (ACA), established in 1956 in order to oversee as well as
maintain overt and covert initiatives.11 Prior to that, the circulation of American
modernism in Western Europe was primarily undertaken by MOMA’s International Council. In his report on the relationship of the International Program and
International Council with the federal government, Porter McCray, who was
both director of the International Program throughout the period in question and
a member of the ACA, reminded the Commission of the importance of its
assumption of the government’s role for most of the decade. He noted that
McCarthyism had been responsible for the suffering of the United States’
international prestige, and therefore during this period the IC was the sole source
from which Europeans could learn what had been going on artistically in the
United States since the 1914–18 war.12 In a subsequent interview, however, he
also pointed to the ‘hidden’ financial relationship between the International
Program/International Council and the USIA, which was ‘quite generous on
occasions abroad’.13 Taken together, McCray’s statements imply that the State
Department was quite happy to let the International Council take the lead
representing contemporary American art abroad, and to simply keep the State
Department abreast of its achievements, with McCray as the link between them.
McCray had ample preparation for this role: he met Nelson Rockefeller whilst a
student of architecture, fine arts and museum administration at Yale between
1937 and 1941, and what followed was a long, intertwining career in art
and politics.14 Beginning with his appointment to the Section of the Cultural
536
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TRANSATLANTIC CULTURAL POLITICS IN THE LATE 1950s
Relations Division of the Office of the Coordinator of Inter-American Affairs and
the Inter-American Program at the National Gallery in Washington, DC between
1941 and 1944, in June 1947 he became director of Circulating Exhibitions at
MOMA.15 This post, which he held until October 1961, was interrupted several
times by government appointments. He spent December 1950 to December 1951
in the Foreign Service as Deputy Chief of Presentations and Publications in the
European Headquarters of the Economic Cooperation Administration of the
Marshall Plan. A member of the Fine Arts Committee of the State Department’s
People-to-People Programme from 1957 to 1960, he was also on the USIA’s
Advisory Committee for Cultural Information from 1958 to 1963.16 Rockefeller,
for his part, was more a political than a cultural figure. Although he was a
financial and administrative ‘pillar’ of MOMA at the height of his political
power, he was Eisenhower’s special adviser, as well as chair of the ‘invisible’
Special Group of the OCB.17 The Special Group was established in March 1955
in order to evade accountability to the NSC, and its core members were the
secretaries of Defense and State, the director of the CIA and Rockefeller. It was
shortly after the creation of the Special Group that the policy-specific cultural
exchanges began to flourish.18 Prior to it, Abstract Expressionism had featured
on travelling exhibitions as only one of a range of styles permitted within
American democracy, the approach relied upon by the USIA which, significantly,
was not represented in the Special Group.
As a confidante of Rockefeller, and already with a foot in both the
government and MOMA, McCray was ideally placed to bring the latter into
partnership as the ‘contract agency’ for Special Group initiatives in cultural
diplomacy, and particularly the LSGP. However, other MOMA staff were also
involved with the grants made to visual arts figures through the IEES. The
museum’s president William Burden, for example, was a charter member of the
Fine Arts Committee of the People-to-People Programme, established on 18
February 1957,19 while the museum’s director Rene d’Harnoncourt joined the
advisory committee of the LSGP in January 1959.20 D’Harnoncourt, an
Austrian-born immigrant, had come to the United States in 1932, and worked in
the arts section of the Coordinator for Inter-American Affairs during the war.21
In 1944 he was made vice-president in charge of foreign activities at MOMA,
before being appointed its director in 1949.22 Thus he had a strong background
in working with the government on its fine arts programmes, and his
participation would have been welcomed by Robert Thayer, the recently
appointed Assistant to the Secretary of State for International Educational and
Cultural Relations, of which the LSGP was a part. Thayer was interested in
expanding the involvement of specialists from outside the government in
exchange programmes, and in the month following his appointment d’Harnoncourt was appointed to the Committee on Leaders and Specialists, a post that he
would retain until January 1962.23
The visual arts programme within the LSGP always remained small, even
after 1956, when its emphasis began to shift from grants to leaders towards
grants to specialists.24 The individuals selected for it, though, played a crucial
role in bringing Abstract Expressionism to Western Europe through Jackson
Pollock 1912–1956 and The New American Painting, and in consolidating its
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TRANSATLANTIC CULTURAL POLITICS IN THE LATE 1950s
reputation after the exhibitions had returned to New York. We do know that
nearly half of the exhibitions’ European curators were involved at some point
with the LSGP. These included Robert Giron of the Palais des beaux-arts,
Brussels; Alfred Hentzen of the Kunsthalle, Hamburg; Karl Otto of the
Hochschule fu¨r Bildende Kunst, Berlin; Bryan Robertson of the Whitechapel Art
Gallery, London; John Rothenstein of the Tate Gallery, London, and Arnold
Ru¨dlinger of the Kunsthalle, Basel. The IEES had also been careful to award
Leader Grants to some of the Ministers of Public Instruction in key Western
European countries. These ministers were usually responsible for cultural
exhibitions at national level, and they would have been useful for paving the
way for Jackson Pollock 1912–1956 and The New American Painting. For
example, the LSGP in Italy targeted members of the Ministry for Public
Instruction, and, importantly, Guglielmo De Angelis d’Ossat, a member of this
ministry, as well as the Director General of Fine Arts and an advocate of gesture
painting, was awarded a grant in 1956, as was Pierre Harmel, his Belgian
counterpart.25 These early awards would have encouraged sympathetic support
at the highest level of government in the two European countries most deeply
involved in the European Movement, the main ‘indigenous outlet’ targeted by
the OCB in 1955 in order to assist unification. Established in the summer of
1949 as an unofficial organization parallel to the Council of Europe, it
comprised primarily Christian Democratic parties, but also admitted liberal and
independent leftist parties as fellow travellers. The initial member states were
Belgium, Britain, France, the Netherlands, Italy and West Germany, with the
United States offering its full support.26 The primary difference between the
European Movement and the Council of Europe, however, was their respective
attitudes towards American involvement in the process of European unification.
While both excluded Communist countries, as well as Greece, Portugal and
Spain because of their dictatorial regimes, the Council of Europe has been
described by Jean-Louis Burban as ‘by, not, for Europeans’, and therefore ‘a
departure from an ‘‘Atlantic Europe’’ organised by the United States for its own
agenda’.27 Yet it was widely held within the European Movement that the
United States must be included in it, as exclusion could encourage a return to
American isolationism.28 Aldrich has shown that the European Movement was
almost wholly dependent on the United States for its financial survival during its
early years, and has recounted that in the summer of 1948 the International
Executive of the European Movement even travelled to New York to encourage
the creation of an American branch in order to bolster the Euro-American
relationship.29 As a result, an American Committee with its own Cultural
Section was created, with Alfred Barr, Jr, at that stage MOMA’s curator of
European painting, and one of the chief organizers of The New American
Painting, as a representative on the Cultural Section. Given these links, the
European Movement was an ideal organization through which the OCB could
garner ideas for its cultural programmes, and the International Council
exhibitions regularly toured its member states.
Having key personnel in both the European Movement and the LSGP,
MOMA was certainly one of the ‘contract agencies’ through which the LSGP
conducted its grants to figures in the visual arts. Upon recommendation by
538
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TRANSATLANTIC CULTURAL POLITICS IN THE LATE 1950s
American embassy staff in the European countries in question, applicants for the
LSGP would be short-listed, and the embassy would provide commentary
supporting their candidacy. In some instances, individuals wishing to participate
in the programme solicited the embassy themselves. Successful applicants were
then issued grants typically of thirty or sixty days, depending on the grantees’
interests and their own professional commitments. While at present there is little
documentation available on the itineraries of the grantees, the guide issued by
the LSGP made it clear that programmes should be tailored by the contract
agency to suit each visiting leader, accommodating his or her special interests,
and allowing the grantee ‘full opportunity’ to develop their own programme.30
Yet it was also desirable that the contract agency ‘suggest y the most
appropriate professional contacts’.31 MOMA was open about its role in this
programme, noting in its press material for The New American Painting in
London that one of the International Council’s ‘continuing activities’ was
‘advising foreign artists and specialists in art and architecture who are visiting
the US on fellowships or off …
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