Discussed (a bit) at the time (of the article):

Was Modern Art Really a CIA Psy-Op? - https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=23525366 - June 2020 (7 comments)

Pretty sure there have been other threads, including on the Peter Matthiessen (Paris Review) connection - anybody want to find them?

Edit: there's this: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=10963429 - and https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=10964477 linking to https://www.salon.com/2012/05/27/exclusive_the_paris_review_....

Edit 2 - found some more:

During Cold War, CIA used ‘Doctor Zhivago’ as a tool to undermine Soviet Union - https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=7991903 - July 2014 (30 comments)

Abstract Expressionism was (in part) a covert CIA operation - https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=1891222 - Nov 2010 (1 comment)


The answer is: sort of, but not really. Government funding was used to promote American art internationally for the purposes of prestige and cultural power, but the movements themselves were not created by any institutions.
There's a book on this called The Cultural Cold War[1]. I tried reading it but (embarrassingly) I don't know enough about artistic and literary figures in the mid-20th century to follow along with all the names it drops. Seemed interesting, though.

[1] https://thenewpress.com/books/cultural-cold-war

The government threw money at the arts in the mid-20th-century to show up the USSR and people are reading too much into it. If classicism had been the thing in the middle of the 20th century they would have funded that instead.

Is the popularity of reactive programming a Facebook psy-op? They certainly popularized it via React, but does that mean there was some deep agenda inside Facebook to popularize reactive programming to accomplish some mysterious occult goal? Or was it just that Facebook is big, happened to employ some good devs who liked reactive programming, and dumped a lot of money into it?

When big companies and governments throw money around they distort the market and whatever happens to be in the right place at the right time to grab that cash tends to get favored. That's usually all there is to it unless you can find concrete evidence that (for example) someone with authority in the CIA wanted to promote that specific type of art to achieve a specific societal outcome.

Let's see: Modern art starts somewhere around 1860 until 1970's. The term modern art was presumably first used in writing in the 1890's for French painters Coubert and Manet.The CIA was founded in 1947. Even MoMa predates the CIA by 18 years. So the answer must be no.
The article mentions the Advancing American Art program. You can read more about it here: https://brill.com/downloadpdf/journals/hcm/7/1/article-p971_...
seems like a genius way to legitimately funnel dark funding.

you can literally invent million dollar excuses for value transfers to arbitrary individuals.

Speaking out of my ass: my understanding was that certain branches of abstract expressionism were so, essentially, but it's difficult to apply the suspicion to ALL of modern/postmodern art, considering that so much of it was developed or influenced by artistic movements outside the temporal and geographic purview of the CIA (particularly pre-WWII European (post)modern art and its influences in Asian and African forms). Also, it wouldn't be the first time influential entities boosted controversial media in a successful bid for a sort of cultural engineering. (I know what you're probably thinking, and no, I'm actually referring to, "Woodrow Wilson screening 'Birth of a Nation' at the White House.")

(I'm purposely conflating modern and postmodern art because I imagine that many who see the term "modern art" make that mistake, and because Pollock et al. kind of bridge the two in eschewing representation while still using traditional media.)

This is one of my favorites. Many here correctly point out that modern art was not created by the CIA and that's certainly laughable.

However, there are a lot folks here who don't seem to got the intent of this operation, and it was an operation with a goal. The goal was to subvert any trend toward political expression in art in the US as Soviet art was very political and a powerful force in shaping public opinion. We knew we couldn't control it so we ensured that it didn't happen here. Roughly speaking, of course.

I refuse to believe that Alegria/Corporate Memphis/Globohomo art isn't a psyop to demoralize populations with how hideous it is.
heh if this was true imagine the poor agents tasked with carrying it out, god what an awful job. "you want me to do what?!? I thought i was going to be behind enemy lines with a tiny camera at a fancy party like in the movies.."
I have had the "Emperor wears no clothes" reaction to much of so-called modern art. Much of it seemed like gaslighting or sh*t tests for snobs obsessed with class signalling and Having The Right Connections or Causes. Rather than a demonstration of any real masterful skill, rare talent or artifact of relentless practice or an eye-for-perfection, of decades-long study or trial-and-error.

I mean compare a random surviving Da Vinci against the stereotypical "Man in Box" install circa 2005 NYC (say a cheap red string tied between two posts, while the audience listens to musak -- to give a dumb exemplar of the type of thing I've heard decribed as Modern Art.)

Here are three things that well connected Old Money types like: collecting art, being on the boards of nonprofits, and serving in high-level government positions. Not surprising that a Rockefeller might do all three.
That's a wildly overstated headline. Modern art goes back to the early 19th century and there were artists and patrons across the world long before the CIA. It's entirely plausible that they saw the rise of modern art as a useful vehicle to propagandize but it's ridiculous to say the entire thing was an OP.
If you like this kind of question, I highly recommend the Wind of Change podcast, about whether The Scorpions song of the same name was written by the CIA. Super entertaining!


Brad Troemel covered this pretty well on patreon, here's the preview https://www.instagram.com/p/CVfvbpwAoMZ/
Modern Art was not a CIA Psy-Op, because modern art is older than the CIA. Modern art started around the 1870s and was in full swing at the start of the 20th century. The CIA was founded in 1947.
Wait, you mean that scene in Men In Black 3 wasn't a joke?


If you haven't read about MKUltra its worth a read too. Looks like the CIA helped to make LSD popular in the 60s https://www.npr.org/2019/09/09/758989641/the-cias-secret-que...
Regardless of what you think of this, there is a related idea worth considering: hegemony. Whether it is organic or confected, the idea that powerful groups within societies create and export ideas to other groups in society in a way that cements their own power or breaks a competing group's.. isn't new, and is fairly clearly the case whether we look at art, or tech, or media ownership.
Central Intelligence... Agency.

Agency, as in there are hundreds of millions of third-worlders who have been conditioned to believe they have no Agency. Since grammar school.

Which the Agency itself isn't really any good at (at least since the 50's), but those in power locally are more than happy to exploit the boogeyman and make it part of the curricula.

People who spend money because they have to have a hard time understanding people who spend money because they're bored.
When I studied art history in school, a major theme was that most of the artists from long ago that we have heard of did some kind of work for whoever was in power, to make money, to create their masterpieces.

Let’s not pretend the CIA is particularly good at anything other than overthrowing Latin American democracies.

We can see what our governments are encouraging towards other countries quite easily and openly today. For example in the UK you can see organisations like the British Council (The United Kingdom's international organisation for cultural relations and educational opportunities): https://www.britishcouncil.org/arts/news

and towards China in particular: https://chinanow.britishcouncil.cn/

Some on the left (and right I imagine) say these are an example of neo-colonialist neo-liberalist ideas and that does seem as conspiracyish as this article but if you imagine in 50 years time a politics article looking at the arts right now, then an archived series of these projects from our governments international arts organisations might well be included!

Patronage, fine art, and propaganda have always been intertwined. It is so fundamental to the subject that it's in the textbooks. This article could be pulled from the course text for intro to modern art.
Boy am I glad that we are saying "was" now about that nonsense
wasn't René Magritte and "Ceci n'est pas une pipe" long before there was a CIA? https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Treachery_of_Images

Also Picasso was a real commie https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pablo_Picasso#Political_views - also Diego Rivera, and Frida Kahlo.

This went along with tons of money to left-wing anticommunist/antisoviet writers and scholars (financing a bunch of elite literary journals that no one read, but looked good enough on resumes to get people into the NYRB, Guardian, etc..) If you're on the left, but not a Leninist, don't fall for the flattery of institutions. There are people spending the integrity of naive idealists in order to advance military and strategic goals.
> "Soviet propaganda asserted that the United States was a “culturally barren” capitalist wasteland."

but we invented taco tuesday and family guy

Was Modern Art a CIA Psy-Op?

No, it's not. No more than other attempts, like assassinating Castro (man, that one is really a laughing stock if you read that one front to back) or their involvement in "war against drugs". Maybe they start it but had absolutely no control where it was going.

There are people out there who look at what you do and think it’s a CIA psy-op. Any subject matter other folks find challenging is like this.
modern art began well before the CIA
Time and Life magazines, etc.
I know they are trying to create a catchy headline but just to be 100% clear, Modernism as a movement predates the existence of the CIA by > 50 years. Modernism in music, literature, art and architecture appears around the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th. It went through many iterations by the mid 20th century and the birth of the CIA out of the wartime OSS in 1947.
I'm genuinely surprised that the article neglected to mention the intriguing story of Rockefeller Plaza and the artist Diego Rivera.

Rockefeller, in his ambition to elevate the visual allure of the lobby in the newly-constructed Rockefeller Center, enlisted Rivera to produce an imposing mural. The outcome was "Man At The Crossroads," an artwork of monumental scale and significance.

Rivera's work is a meticulous tapestry, deftly weaving myriad aspects of the social and scientific zeitgeist of his era. Echoes of Communism, an influence in Rivera's other works, can also be discerned here. The centerpiece of the composition features a worker, seemingly the master of the machinery surrounding him. This focal figure is presented beneath a colossal fist clutching an orb, a representation of atomic recombination and cellular division in an ongoing act of biological and chemical genesis.

Four propeller-like forms extend from the central figure towards the composition's corners, signifying light arcs emanating from large lenses that anchor the spatial edges. Rivera coined these as "elongated ellipses". They encapsulate cosmological and biological forces, such as erupting suns and cellular structures, symbolizing the revelations afforded by the telescope and the microscope.

Interwoven between these arcs are vignettes of contemporary social life. To the left, affluent society women are depicted indulging in cards and cigarettes. In stark contrast, on the right, we find Lenin amidst a diverse assembly of workers. Juxtaposed scenes of militaristic force and a Russian May Day rally laden with red flags encapsulate Rivera's contrasting societal visions – a decadent, jobless society, dispassionately observing escalating conflict, and Lenin ushering in a socialist utopia.

Classical statues tower behind the observers at the edges of the scene. The left bears an enraged Jupiter, his hand clutching a thunderbolt, severed by a lightning strike – an embodiment of the frontier of ethical evolution. Conversely, a headless seated Caesar on the right signifies the frontier of material development. These images were Rivera's symbolic defiance against superstition, advocating for the scientific mastery of nature and the overthrow of authoritarianism by the emancipated proletariat.

The mural's overt Communist themes caused a stir among certain American observers. When Rivera stood his ground against removing Lenin's depiction, Rockefeller retaliated by having the mural plastered over. Erased.

In the subsequent years, Rockefellers skill at erasing art made him a key figure in the CIA's initiative to suppress intellectual discourse within the art world. In pursuit of this endeavor, the agency orchestrated the flooding of galleries with abstract art, featuring indecipherable splashes of paint, thereby drowning out the voices of artists who dared to infuse their creations with thought-provoking messages


So Andy wharhol shot jfk?
TLDR: CIA openly admits it controlled art, philosophy, scholarship, and theory to steer leftists, and along with orgs like USAID and NED openly fund such projects today. Who can guess what they do in secret.
Back in the days of the John Birch Society people made the same claim except it was the KGB instead.
Do not be fooled by the article's date. It is another psyop
As someone who blew 500k on an MFA I wish they would bring this back lmfao.
It's pretty funny this article was published on April 1st
Nothing to see here folks. Just Matrix things.
22. Continue discrediting American culture by degrading all forms of artistic expression. An American Communist cell was told to "eliminate all good sculpture from parks and buildings, substitute shapeless, awkward and meaningless forms."

23. Control art critics and directors of art museums. "Our plan is to promote ugliness, repulsive, meaningless art."

From 45 Communist Goals, published 1958 in "The Naked Communist" and read into the Congressional Record in 1963. Worth checking out, much of it came to pass.


Was modern art a KGB psy-op covered up by the CIA?
It's frightening to realize that western society has had such powerful totalitarian elements working behind the scenes under the banner of free markets and meritocracy. No wonder everything feels fake.
Occams razor: a much simpler explanation, not disproved by anything in this article, would be that CIA saw that sincere and powerful american and western art was already capturing hearts and minds for effectively, and decided to empower it, since this process aligned with its goals.

And in general, american hegemony roughly aligned with interests of humanity as a whole, because with all it's downfalls and atrocities and ugliness, its still much better than the alternative.