On 18 September the US Central Intelligence Agency celebrated its 66th birthday. The CIA’s clandestine support for art during the Cold War is now well-known. Frances Stonor Saunders’ 1995 article in the Independent declaring that Modern Art was CIA ‘Weapon’ remains a popular introduction to Cold War painting and was developed into the best-seller, Who Paid the Piper?: The CIA and the Cultural Cold War (Granta, 2000).
While the full story is rather more complicated, and therefore less exciting, the CIA certainly played its part. Operating under the imaginatively-titled Operation Mockingbird, the agency provided covert financial support to several cultural organisations promoting American modernist art, with the hope that it would be seen internationally as evidence for the ‘free’ art produced in a ‘free’ America. The story broke in 1967, published first in Rampants, a left-wing journal, before being picked up by the New York Times. In reply, the man behind the mission, Thomas Braden, took to the Saturday Evening Post to boldly declare: I’m Glad the CIA is ‘Immoral’.
Image: Jackson Pollock, photographed for Life magazine