The Cultural Cold War: The CIA and the World of Arts and Letters

Frances Stonor Saunders, Author
Frances Stonor Saunders, Author New Press $29.95 (509p) ISBN 978-1-56584-596-1
Reviewed on: 04/03/2000
Release date: 04/01/2000
Paperback - 509 pages - 978-1-56584-664-7
Paperback - 427 pages - 978-1-59558-914-9
Ebook - 315 pages - 978-1-59558-942-2
Open Ebook - 457 pages - 978-1-306-43740-0
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Drawing on recently declassified documents and extensive interviews, Saunders has assembled a captivating, authoritative history of the CIA's secret campaign to turn American art into anti-Soviet cultural propaganda. Mindful of the western European intelligentsia's fascination with Marxism, the CIA gave millions of dollars to American arts organizations, largely through a front group called the Congress for Cultural Freedom, which lasted until 1967; at its peak, it ""had offices in 35 countries..., published over 20 prestige magazines, held art exhibitions..., organized high-profile international conferences, and rewarded musicians and artists with prizes and public performances."" Sometimes wittingly and sometimes not, artists and intellectuals--from Aaron Copland to Leontyne Price, W.H. Auden to Gertrude Stein--were recruited as soldiers in this ""psychological warfare"" against communism. Saunders, an independent film producer who lives in London, points out that this now-unthinkable cooperation from major artists and producers was possible because the CIA hadn't yet acquired the sinister reputation it gained in the '60s, when its covert, and often bungled, international actions became publicly known. The only flaw in this thoroughly documented book, which has been shortlisted for the London Guardian's First Book Award, is that the story is so richly convoluted that occasionally the larger drama gets lost in its overwhelming details. Indeed, an entire book could have been made of the chapter explicating the CIA's marketing of abstract expressionism (a surefire way to wow impressionable European aesthetes tired of socialist realism). Nonetheless, this well-researched work remains a must for art historians interested in how the American avant-garde thrived during the McCarthy era. B&w photos. (Apr.) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.]
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