"Our aim in the Cold War is not conquering of territory or subjugation by force. Our aim is more subtle, more pervasive, more complete. We are trying to get the world, by peaceful means, to believe the truth. That truth is that Americans want a world at peace, a world in which all people shall have opportunity for maximum individual development. The means we shall employ to spread this truth are often called “psychological.” Don’t be afraid of that term just because it’s a five-dollar, five-syllable word. “Psychological warfare” is the struggle

for the minds and wills of men."

— President Dwight D. Eisenhower

On February 25, 1967, the New York Times exposed Rockefeller appointee and chairman of MoMA’s Board of Trustees, John “Jock” Whitney’s charity trust, the Whitney Trust, as a CIA conduit.[1] The Whitney Trust is one of nearly 170 foundations, including the Rockefeller Foundation and the Ford Foundation, through which the CIA filtered money to fund tens of millions of dollars to fight a cultural cold war. They sought to influence the foreign intellectual community by releasing propaganda images of the United States as a free society in an effort to build a stronghold against the growth of the Iron Curtain—Eisenhower’s psychological warfare.

Through the intricate web of foundations, well-placed frontmen, and a front organization called the Committee for Cultural Freedom, the CIA produced media and newspaper publications and sponsored numerous cultural events internationally, including international art exhibitions. Their aim was to educate, inspire, and promote American ideals.

The CIA collaborated with MoMA on international art exhibitions first and foremost through Nelson Rockefeller, who was a former head of the government’s wartime intelligence agency for Latin America (CIAA) and most importantly, acted as MoMA President during most of the 1940 and 1950s. Additionally, the CIA relied on strategic front men such as John “Jock” Whitney, a longtime friend of Nelson Rockefeller and former agent in the Office of Strategic Services (OSS, the predecessor to the CIA which was not formed until 1947), who served as chairman of MoMA’s board of trustees. Porter McCray, a former attaché in the US Foreign Service assigned to the cultural section of the Marshal Plan in Paris, was director of MoMA circulating exhibitions. All of these men, in some way, were connected to fighting the CIA’s covert cultural cold war.

The CIA chose abstract expressionism and its artists, Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko—both members of the Committee for Cultural Freedom—Willem de Kooning, Franz Kline, and Robert Motherwell as their weapons. Their art represented what could be created in a free society. The movement was fresh, avant-garde, independent, creatively free, and most importantly, nonpolitical—everything Moscow loved to hate. Abstract Expressionism exemplified freedom of expression, spirit, character, and the true expression of national will.[2] And the artists who painted it represented independence and freedom. They were rebels, cowboys, and most importantly, Americans.

 

[1] Eva Croft: ‘Abstract Expressionism, Weapon of the Cold War.’ In Francis Frascina ed., Pollock and After: The Critical Debate (Harper & Row 1985)

[2] Saunders, Frances Stonor. “The Cultural Cold War: The CIA and the World of Arts and Letters” The New York Press. 1999