Pablo Picasso (1881–1973) needs little introduction since he is probably the most famous artist of the 20th Century. His portraits from his Blue and Rose period reflect a sensitivity for his subjects which was lost when he turned to Cubism. However, occasionally he did some beautiful work after his Cubist phase which reflect a love for the subject, his portrait of his daughter Maia is proof for any Philistines that he could draw in a traditional manner.
On the April 26, 1937 the town of Guernica was totally destroyed fom a bombing by the German air force. The town was of no military importance; its destruction was an act of pure terrorism. Picasso responded by painting a surreal cartoonish scene that has the effect of a collage made of old newspapers due to the hard edge forms and the palette of dark browns and white. Guernica is considered a masterpiece of modern art.
Picasso painted another painting like Guernica in 1951; this time he drew inspiration from the composition of Francisco de Goya’s The Third of May 1808. I consider the Massacre in Korea to be a much better painting than Guernica since I can empathize with some of the figures. An adolescent girl stands frozen near the center of the painting and she looks to the viewer with expression of grief. To her right, a baby plays near her feet, unaware of the violence. Two younger children run to a group of four terrified women; all the women and children are naked to symbolize defenselessness. To the right of the painting stands a firing squad, as in Goya’s painting. The posture of the soldiers seem to be mechanical—they are a group of executing robots. The painting was not well received since the “robots” represented the United States military.
The New York art community regarded Picasso’s “new Guernica” to be an “aesthetic failure”. Clement Greenberg, who was the most influential art critic of the time claimed that modern art was apolitical and was only an aesthetic pursuit, but some thought otherwise. On August 16, 1949, Congressman Dondero from Michigan gave a condemning speech “Modern art shackled to Communism”. Picasso had a reputation as a genius but his Massacre in Korea didn’t help the position of Nelson Rockefeller and his associates, who were promoting Modernism. A letter was drafted to Picasso in December 1952 by the recently formed Congress for Cultural Freedom (CCF). The letter condemned Picasso for supporting communism. The letter was never sent but Irving Kristol who was the executive director of the CCF, was confident that he could count on Greenberg’s signature and probably the signatures of Jackson Pollock, Robert Motherwell and Alexander Clader.
In 1967, the magazine Ramparts exposed the CCF to be a CIA-funded organization. The CIA’s promotion of abstract expressionism was so extensive in the 1950’s, an unknown artist couldn’t find representation in New York unless he was painting in a style derived from the New York School. The CIA claimed that the purpose of the program was to improve the United States’ image to liberals who may support communism. The Congress was run by CIA agent Micheal Josselson from 1950 to 1967. At its peak, it had offices in thirty-five countries, published over twenty prestigious magazines, held art exhibitions and rewarded artists with prizes. The realist painter Ben Shahn refused to join and referred to the Congress as the ‘ACCFuck’.
Frances Stonor Saunders’ book Who Paid the Piper? provided much of the information for this article; she writes: “Operating at a remove from the CIA, and therefore offering a plausible disguise for its interests, was the Museum of Modern Art. An inspection of MoMA’s committees and councils reveals a proliferation of links to the Agency.” The program manufactured history and abstract expressionism was promoted as New American painting when in fact most Americans then and now have difficulty accepting the paintings as art. The purpose of the program had nothing to do with freedom—the effect was more like censorship. If respectable art is limited to drips of paint or a field of color, it makes it impossible for an artist to represent anything that could conflict with the ideology of the social system. This is what I found in the account of the response to Massacre in Korea; it was called an “aesthetic failure” for actually being expressive. I regard Korea to be one of Picasso’s best paintings since his Rose Period. I find paintings like Guernica to be ineffective due to the abstractification, the aesthetic distance. I agree with Tolstoy, the essence of art is expression, not just an arrangement of form. The forms in Guernica are cold symbols that fail to evoke empathy.
Wikipedia noted that none of the soldiers in Massacre in Korea have penises. This feature is contrasted by the pregnant state of the women on the left side of the panel. “Many viewers have interpreted that the soldiers, in their capacity as destroyers of life, have substituted guns for their penises, thereby castrating themselves and depriving the world of the next generation of human life”. An expressive image of Americanization indeed.
Miles Mathis believes as well as I do, that the CIA allowed for Saunders’ book to surface to distract from the fact that the government is still in control of the ideology of the art establishment. For example, the book makes no reference to Andy Warhol despite the fact that Warhol was being promoted during the time that the CIA’s program was admittedly active. The values of Pop: mass production and consumerism were in complete conflict with the values of the genuine liberals of the 1960s and 1970s. This is why Jock Sturges was persecuted by the FBI; his photographs reflect a connection between people which were in conflict with the emerging post-humanism. The underlining goal of the plutocracy is to maintain a dysfunctional culture since a disconnected society is easier to control.
The artist Miles Mathis examined Frances Stonor Saunders’ book, the PDF can be found here: The Cultural Cold War.
The Independent’s article can be found here: Modern art was CIA ‘weapon’