Cold War Modernists : Art, Literature and American Cultural Diplomacy
American cultural diplomats of the 1940s and 1950s sought to show European intellectuals that the United States had more to offer than military power and commercial exploitation. Through magazines, traveling art exhibits, touring musical shows, radio programs, book translations, and conferences, they deployed the revolutionary aesthetics of modernism to prove -- particularly to the leftists whose Cold War loyalties they hoped to secure -- that American art and literature were culturally rich and politically significant.
Yet by repurposing modernism, American diplomats and cultural authorities remade the once revolutionary movement into a content-free collection of artistic techniques suitable for middlebrow consumption. They turned the avant-garde into the establishment. Cold War Modernists documents how the CIA, the State Department, and private cultural diplomats transformed modernist art and literature into pro-Western propaganda during the Cold War. Drawing on interviews, previously unknown archival materials, and the stories of such figures and institutions as William Faulkner, Stephen Spender, Irving Kristol, James Laughlin, and the Voice of America, Barnhisel documents how the U.S. government reconfigured modernism as a trans-Atlantic movement, a joint endeavor between American and European artists, with profound implications for the art that followed and the character of American identity in the twentieth century.