Saturday, October 24, 2015
"Acres of Walls" is an intriguing show that appeared at the Disjecta Gallery. Intriguing art is no stranger to Disjecta, which often features art that is likely to inspire lively conversations. (A definite plus is that it's in Kenton half a block from the gigantic Paul Bunyan statue.) Acres of Walls is a project of artist Johanna Barron, who learned that the CIA has a collection of abstract art on the walls of their headquarters and sought to learn as much as she could about it. She wanted not only to find out more about the art, but to find out what she could find out. A binder showing all her official requests through the Freedom of Information Act (plus lots of denials) were part of the show. The paintings on view were her efforts to recreate this art. An interesting detail is that the CIA questioned whether the art as visual objects could be defined as "information". Yet it turns out the CIA did in fact use art as a deliberate medium for messages. Apparently the CIA went to great lengths to work behind the scenes to promote abstract art, both in America and abroad, as a Cold War weapon. The basic premise seems to be that this art was the exact opposite of the populist, representational art being promoted by the Soviets, and was in fact often banned in the U.S.S.R. Both sides seemed to see abstract art as representative of the individual rather than the common cause, elitist rather than populist. It's odd to look back now and see that much of this art was likely made during times of great social and political upheaval in the US. And although that was certainly reflected in our music, films, literature, etc., this art remained stubbornly contentless, almost a slap in the face to social change. I took Jasper to see it because it fit in rather serendipitously with our investigation of the Cold War. He was not a fan of the paintings themselves. I agree- I don't think I'd enjoy working at the CIA if I had to look at them every day. But I do think this project was well worth seeing. And it had never before occurred to me that our government has had any significant role in the art world. Creepy!