Prisoner Art from Guantánamo Bay

In recent weeks, a small art exhibition in New York has raised thorny questions about the link between art and propaganda, creative ownership, and the possibility of judging a work of art irrespective of its creator. Ode to the Sea opened in October 2017 in the gallery of the John Jay College of Criminal Justice. The exhibition features 36 paintings, drawings and sculptures created in … Continue reading Prisoner Art from Guantánamo Bay

Painting the Algerian War of Independence

Twenty-one years after Picasso created his iconic contemporary history painting, Guernica – to memorialise the obliteration of the small Basque town by united Fascist forces during the Spanish Civil War – a similar event in the midst of the Algerian War of Independence inspired two French-born artists to express their outrage at their country’s actions. The little town of Sakiet Sidi Youssef in northern Tunisia is situated just a … Continue reading Painting the Algerian War of Independence

The Ambiguous Art of Post-Revolutionary Cuba

The Cuban Revolution came to an end in January 1959, as the guerrilla revolt led by Fidel Castro swept from power the US-backed dictator, Fulgencio Batista. The subsequent transformation of the Caribbean island into a Communist state, aligned with the Soviet Union, would give rise to an uneasy relationship between Cuba and the United States that exists to this day, and which in the 1960s … Continue reading The Ambiguous Art of Post-Revolutionary Cuba

Iran’s Hidden Art Collection

The inauguration of the Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art (TMoCA) in 1977 would soon prove to be an untimely event. Less than a year later, the Iranian Revolution erupted on 7 January 1978, resulting the following spring in the overthrow of the monarchy and the establishment of the present Islamic Republic. The plan to found a modern art museum in the Iranian capital was the … Continue reading Iran’s Hidden Art Collection

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

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

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

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

Japanese Painters Protesting the Cold War

The atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki by the United States in August 1945 not only signalled the end of World War II, but also announced the start of the nuclear age which would be a defining aspect of the Cold War. The widespread revulsion in Japan at America’s actions would sit uncomfortably with the country’s reliance on the West for protection against the rise of communism … Continue reading Japanese Painters Protesting the Cold War