Mark Vallen: ‘Abstract Art & The Cultural Cold War’

Mark Vallen, Abstract Art & The Cultural Cold War, which is a reposting of a review of the book The Cultural Cold War: The CIA and the World of Arts and Letters by Frances Stonor Saunders, precipitated by the Sam Francis show at Leslie Sacks Fine Art in Los Angeles.

For those who still regard art as being above politics consider the following. …

It seems to me that there is always a political dimension to Art, whether it is expressly dealt with in the work or not. An artist should be aware of the situation that their work enters and how it fits into and affects that situation. And that is a consideration of politics.

I think Mark’s main points in this piece are that the Abstract Expressionist movement was used by the CIA in its prosecution of the Cold War, the artists concerned were or should have been aware of this; as a consequence the involvement of the CIA in this way led to the eclipsing of figurative work from then on.

These artists were the embodiment of an iconoclastic and fiery individualism, but their artworks contained a total absence of recognizable subject matter, not to mention overt politics.

… realist painters languished in obscurity. It is a travesty the art world has not fully recovered from, and to this day elite opinion favors nonrepresentational over realistic artworks.

Mark’s opinion is that this is a bad thing. He is a figurative painter who addresses political issues head on in his work, and this piece shows that he sees any other method of art practice as wrong.

I like many of the artists that the CIA promoted, and tend not to like figurative works. I think that a piece of Art’s political life is in many cases less about its content, form, technique or physical attributes and more about it’s received meaning, and by that I believe that the audiences’ reception of the work gives it its’ political and social position.

And that’s not to say that a work shouldn’t deal directly with political or social subject matter, just that that’s not the only way to make a point.

Dale Chihuly at Kew Gardens

Yesterday, I visited the Dale Chihuly installation in Kew Gardens in West London. I should be able to post some photos tomorrow.

First impressions:

I think they’re really ugly. Not a fan. Some of the installations work well, and are well sited, but that doesn’t make up for their general yuckiness (sorry, can’t think of another word at this point).

UPDATE: The Photos

“…potentiality: the power not to do this or that.”

This is what Agamben calls potentiality: the power not to do this or that. …It is one thing to be against all sorts of things in this world (global capitalism, the spectacle, biopolitics), but it is another thing to do (or not do) something about it. It is also understandable that we no longer think, like Marx, that we can change the world. But this is not to say that we cannot, like Rimbaud, change our lives. Don’t get me wrong: I am not making here the banal proposition that we need to become more ‘politically active,’ in the sense of signing petitions, marching in protests, voicing our opinions, voting, or, in the extreme and sad case, becoming actual politicians. I think that to interpret Agamben’s act as such a case of political activism or intellectual involvement (as I myself used to do) would be a grave misunderstanding. Agamben did not simply voice his protest against “biopolitical tattooing,” but he acted (or, more precisely, did not act) in a singular way. At this moment, words become deeds, deeds become words, and language is indistinguishable from life.

But I think that we need to see his act as an example, as a paradigm. Agamben did not let power penetrate his naked life. Instead, he simply took his way of life in his hands … and transformed it into power. This, I am here to argue, is what we all need to do with our lives, in a multiplicity of slow, small, and steady steps.

Quoted from Aviva Shemesh at Form of Life