In the earliest days of the Cold War immediately following World War II, the fundamental world-views of the Soviet Union and the United States were set against each other in military, political, ideological and cultural terms.
In 1947, the United States government sponsored an international art exhibition, "Advancing American Art", which aimed to showcase the stars of the American post-war avant-garde. The exhibition aimed to demonstrate and spread the cultural values of individualist, creative, forward-thinking, democratic America around a world threatened by authoritarian Communism.
Even after the show was withdrawn following public scepticism of the high modernism their taxes were funding, art remained a key tool in the diplomatic arsenal of the USA, resulting the establishment of the Congress for Cultural Freedom, a front organisation run covertly by the CIA itself.
In the service of espousing a vision of American culture distinct from the rigid, repressive modes of the USSR, the Congress actively and aggressively promoted American modernism in general, and the Abstract Expressionism as epitomised by Jackson Pollock in particular. Modern art was a CIA weapon.
The module will first cover the artistic movements which emerged from the tumultuous events of World War 2, from Abstract Expressionism in America, Socialist Realism in the USSR and Neo-Dada and Pop art to Performance and Postcolonialism in art. The term will conclude with Postmodernism, Appropriation and the effects of Mass Media.
Lectures will focus variously on movements (minimalism, neo-dada, pop), themes (feminism, politics), media and methods (sculpture, performance, new media), particular national or regional contexts (USA, Europe, Latin America), or broader philosophical debates (such as modernism and postmodernism).
The course is intentionally broad in both its scope and its approach, intended to provide students with an overview of the issues at stake in art and culture during the post-war period and the powerful and lasting impacts art and art history has had on culture, politics, and ideology.