Laughing at the President

As the US presidential inauguration approaches, provoking revulsion and celebration in various quarters, an exhibition at Hauser & Wirth’s New York gallery is reminding visitors of a Cold War precedent for the current political turmoil. Philip Guston: Laughter in the Dark, Drawings from 1971 & 1975 is devoted to the American artist’s satirical images of Richard Nixon, whose controversial presidency was brought to a premature end … Continue reading Laughing at the President

Drawing the Hungarian Revolution

Although the revolutions of 1989 are commemorated as marking the fall of the Soviet Union, many consider that the beginning of the end was 33 years earlier, in 1956. At the start of that year, on 25 February, new Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev delivered the ground-breaking speech “On the Cult of Personality and Its Consequences” to the 20th Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet … Continue reading Drawing the Hungarian Revolution

Art and Diplomacy in Franco’s Spain

The Pact of Madrid, signed on 26 September 1953, brought the United States into a controversial alliance with Spain’s fascist government, ruled over by General Francisco Franco. Since the end of World War II, and the defeat of its Axis collaborators, Spain had been largely isolated from the international community and formally excluded in a UN resolution of 1946. But the deepening Cold War presented … Continue reading Art and Diplomacy in Franco’s Spain

The Non-Aligned Movement and the Birth of Computer Art

On 1 September 1961, the presidents of Egypt, Ghana, India, Indonesia and Yugoslavia gathered in the latter’s capital of Belgrade to form the Non-Aligned Movement. The group shared a commitment to remaining neutral in the Cold War, and this informal alliance offered a way to protect their developing countries from being absorbed into either of the rival blocs of nations, led by the United States … Continue reading The Non-Aligned Movement and the Birth of Computer Art

Painting Through the Berlin Wall

“We enjoyed painting a line through that one!” The German journalist and author, Frank Willmann, recalled with glee the moment in 1986, when he and four friends daubed white paint across Keith Haring’s iconic Berlin Wall mural. This iconoclastic act was part of an art-activist stunt that stretched 3 miles along the infamous structure. Since the wall was suddenly erected on 13 August 1961, to separate … Continue reading Painting Through the Berlin Wall

Nuclear Art in the Swinging Sixties

When Colin Self began his studies at London’s Slade School of Fine Art in 1961, Britain and the wider world were in the midst of a terrifying year. The ever-present threat of nuclear war reached a crisis point in the aftermath of the disastrous Bay of Pigs Invasion, while Yuri Gagarin’s pioneering space flight in April and the installation of the Berlin Wall in August … Continue reading Nuclear Art in the Swinging Sixties

John Keane, Gulf War Artist

Soon after the start of the Gulf War on 2 August 1990, painter and photographer John Keane was invited by the Imperial War Museum (IWM) in London to be Britain’s official war artist for this new conflict, forged in the disintegration of the Cold War. At first refused accreditation by a suspicious Ministry of Defence, due to his record of painting an unflattering portrait of war, the 36-year-old Keane eventually … Continue reading John Keane, Gulf War Artist

Warning of the Cold War Horse

The life-size effigy of the horse stands alone in a windswept field in Jefferson County, Colorado. But this is no pettable pony. The Cold War Horse is a warning that something sinister has occurred on this remote plateau, about 15 miles north-west of Denver. Cast in fiberglass, steel and resin, the sculpture depicts the horse cloaked in a bright red hazmat suit, with a grey respirator strapped over … Continue reading Warning of the Cold War Horse

Exhibition: Monster Roster

While I was in the American Midwest last month, I couldn’t resist making the journey out to the University of Chicago to see the latest exhibition at the Smart Museum of Art: Monster Roster: Existentialist Art in Postwar Chicago. The exhibition focuses on the work of a close-knit group of artists working in the Windy City between the late 1940s and the mid-1960s. The artists, … Continue reading Exhibition: Monster Roster