For decades, it has been rumoured that the CIA’s art collection has hidden meaning. Finally, photographs of the collection are accessible to the public for the first time allowing us to make up our own minds. Political propaganda or ‘just’ art?
Over the years a number of articles focused on a project by Oregonian artist Joby Barron, called “Acres of Walls", which grew out of Barron’s interest in the CIA’s covert promotion of Abstract Expressionism as propaganda during the Cold War. Long held as rumor, it’s now agreed that in the 1950s and ‘60s, the CIA helped fund and promote the work of unwitting American Abstract Expressionists — like Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning — around the world to demonstrate the freedom of expression in the United States. Led by front organizations like the Congress for Cultural Freedom, these efforts were part of the CIA’s Cold War strategy of promoting the non-communist left. In the Soviet Union, it was implied, such avant-garde artists would’ve been thrown in the Lubyanka.
But more recently, the rumours were magnified by Portland artist, Johanna Barron. She became frustrated and then unsettled when her attempts to access information about 29 abstract paintings which hang on the walls of Langley from the Washington Color School were denied. Using the Freedom of Information Act, she exhibited representations of these paintings in her 2015 exhibition, Acres of Walls.
The CIA continues to protest its innocence: “We don’t hide our art collection. We’re not trying to keep it out of the media,” CIA spokesperson Glenn Miller said. “It’s not classified in any way whatsoever.”
But the stunning artworks still remain elusive!