Venezuelan multimedia artist Alessandro Balteo Yazbeck has in recent years been bringing the Cold War back into contemporary galleries and international biennials. His eclectic installations incorporate historical documents, media sources and the work of other artists to dissect the role of power and propaganda in artistic narratives after World War II.
Balteo Yazbeck’s hybrid practice casts him at once as researcher, archivist, historian and curator. He has often teamed up with New York-based Iranian curator and art historican Media Farzin on a number of projects exploring America’s efforts to access oil reserves in Venezuela and Iran during the Cold War.
The duo’s 2009 exhibition Cultural Diplomacy: An Art We Neglect – named after a 1954 opinion piece published in the New York Times – brought together maps, photographs and replica artworks in a tale of international intrigue which placed Alexander Calder at the centre of US diplomacy in Latin America and the Middle East.
In 2013 one of Balteo Yazbeck’s latest projects, Chronoscope, was a highlight of the Cold War-themed Statue of Limitation exhibition in Dubai. This exciting and informative work proves that the Cold War remains a rich source of inspiration for contemporary artists.
Alessandro Balteo Yazbeck and Media Farzin. Top – Didactic Panel for Alexander Calder’s Vertical Constellation with Bomb, 1943 (detail); Bottom – Eames-Derivative (small version). From the series Cultural Diplomacy: An Art We Neglect, 2006–13. Courtesy the artists
In the affluent London neighbourhood of Hampstead, a trip to a historic building brings to light the story behind a famous fictional Cold War baddie.
2 Willow Road was the family home of the Hungarian-born architect, Ernö Goldfinger. But the modernist design of his 1939 building proved unpopular with other Hampstead residents, including author Ian Fleming. The creator of James Bond objected to the demolition of a row of cottages that made way for Goldfinger’s house, now a National Trust property.
Fleming later took inspiration from the rift to name gold magnate and suspected Soviet collaborator Auric Goldfinger, the title character of the seventh James Bond novel (and the third film). An infuriated Ernö consulted his lawyers when the novel was published in 1959, but after Fleming threatened to rename the character ‘Goldprick’ the lawsuit was abandoned.
Besides being a unique example of modernist architecture, 2 Willow Road also contains an impressive collection of modern art, including works by Max Ernst and Henry Moore.
Image: 2 Willow Road, London. Photograph: National Trust
Former US President and devoted Cold Warrior Richard Nixon is the inspiration behind a current exhibition in his home town of Yorba Linda, California.
Involuntary Memories is a collection of large-scale pen and ink drawings by American artist Deborah Aschheim, woven together with text drawn from a series of oral interviews. Deborah Aschheim conducted the interviews and produced the illustrations during a 7-month residency at the studios of the Orange County Great Park in Irvine, CA. The park was formerly the site of El Toro, a Marine Corps airbase which Nixon used as an airport when travelling between Washington, DC and his ‘Western White House’ in San Clemente.
As part of her wider project to develop a “sprawling bi-partisan tapestry of community memories of that era”, Aschheim gathered personal recollections from visitors to the park of the 37th President and the Vietnam War. This project in collective memory provides a novel insight into a far-reaching moment in Cold War history.
The exhibition continues at the Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum in Yorba Linda, CA until 28 September 2014. You can see further examples of Aschheim’s illustrations on her website, along with installation shots of the exhibition.
Images: Deborah Aschheim. Top – November 20, 1964 (UC Berkeley), 2013; Bottom – April 30, 1970 (Washington), 2012. Courtesy the Artist
The sensational trial of the Chicago Seven, which lasted almost a year from 1969 to 1970, became a focal point for campaigns against American involvement in the Vietnam War. The seven defendants were charged with conspiracy to incite violence and riots relating to the countercultural protests that took place outside the 1968 Democratic National Convention from 26 to 29 August.
For five days and nights, anti-war groups united to stage a series of demonstrations, rallies and marches declaiming President Johnson’s policies in Vietnam. In response police used tear gas and batons to deter the campaigners. In the aftermath of these confrontations politicians and judges were divided as to whether protesters or police were primarily to blame for the violence.
During a colourful trial, the seven protesters accused of spearheading the dissent used the courtroom to mock the United States government and the prejudiced legal system. Ultimately all defendants were acquitted of conspiracy, but five of the group were sentenced to five years each imprisonment for inciting the riots.
In 1971 prominent anti-war artists campaigned against the convictions with the publication of a portfolio of 12 lithographs and screenprints under the title Conspiracy: The Artist as Witness. Contributors included Alexander Calder, Leon Golub, Sol LeWitt, Claes Oldenberg, Frank Stella and Peter Saul. Eventually in November 1972 the imprisoned members of the Chicago Seven were released after an appeal found evidence of cultural and racial bias throughout the trial.
Images: Top – Romare Howard Bearden, Mother and Child; Bottom – Leon Golub and Nancy Spero, They Will Torture You, My Friend. From Conspiracy: The Artist as Witness, 1971. Courtesy The Art Institute of Chicago.
What: Death of Rubén Salazar, oil painting by Frank Romero, 1986
Where: Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, DC
The killing of Los Angeles Times journalist Rubén Salazar on 29 August 1970 highlighted the impact that Cold War politics had on all sections of American society. On the day of his death, Salazar was reporting on a march organised by the Chicano Moratorium, a group protesting against the Vietnam War and the disproportionate number of Mexican-Americans who were serving or had been killed.
As the police staged an aggressive response to break up the peaceful rally, Salazar was shot in the head with a tear gas projectile by a sheriff’s deputy. As Salazar was a vocal critic of police brutality against Los Angeles’ Latino community many believed his death was premeditated. Yet although the inquest ruled a homicide, his killer was never prosecuted.
16 years later the tragic tale of Rubén Salazar was the inspiration behind a large canvas by LA painter Frank Romero. In the 1960s and ’70s, Romero had been part of the artistic circle Los Four, producing emotionally-charged murals that recorded political events affecting the Latino community. In Death of Rubén Salazar he combined this Mexican revolutionary tradition with the bold colours popular in the East LA barrio. In the painting, as police storm the Silver Dollar Bar where Salazar was shot, the movie theatre on the right announces its feature: La Muerte de Rubén Salazar.
You can read more about the painting on the Smithsonian American Art Museum website and listen to an interview with the artist here.
Image: Frank Romero, Death of Rubén Salazar, 1986. Oil on canvas, 183.5 x 305.8 cm. Smithsonian American Art Museum
ESPIONART has previously reported on the art collections of some unlikely American institutions, including the NASA Art Program, the Navy Art Collection and the DIA Military Art Collection.
Another to add to that list is the United States Air Force Art Collection, which was created in 1950, just as the Cold War was beginning to heat up. Soon afterwards the USAF Art Program was also founded, arranging for selected artists to travel with the Air Force to locations around the world and record its activities. The artists were chosen from professional groups across the country and in particular the Society of Illustrators.
Today the collection, held in the Pentagon, contains nearly 9,000 works. While the majority of the paintings and drawings are aviation art, with detailed depictions of everything from bombers and missiles to gunships and cargo planes, there is also a large number of more general military scenes, portraits of noted Air Force personnel, images of civilians affected by warfare and original artwork for Air Force recruitment posters. Key events from the Cold War include the Berlin Airlift and the Fall of Saigon.
The United States Air Force Art Collection has been digitised and is now available to view online.
Images: Top – Emilio Arias, The Collapse of Viet Cong, n.d. (1975); Bottom – Gil Cohen, Berlin Airlift / Staying Power – Berlin, 1948–49. Courtesy United States Air Force Art Collection.
Perhaps the most celebrated American sculptor of the 20th century, Alexander Calder is especially well-known for his abstract and seemingly innocuous mobiles. These would become a common feature in official American exhibitions at world fairs and international art festivals during the 1950s – including at the 1959 American National Exhibition in Moscow. In this context they were presented as examples of ‘free’ art produced within a democratic society and devoid of political meaning. Yet the use of Calder’s work as state propaganda would increasingly run into conflict with the artist’s own politics.
As the recent article ‘Unstable Motives: Propaganda, Politics, and the Late Work of Alexander Calder‘ explores in detail, in the 1960s and ’70s Calder become increasingly activist and critical of US foreign policy, with his new-found radicalism reflected in his artwork.
In later life Calder began to produce prints, posters and even badges in support of presidential candidates, anti-war protests and refugee relief operations. Calder was also one of a group of artists who publicly refused to take part in the White House Arts Festival of 1965, in a show of opposition to US involvement in the Vietnam War. Yet against the artist’s wishes his work Whale II was placed centre stage at the event, having been lent by MoMA. This story perfectly sums up the often difficult relationship between American artists and the US government as the changing politics of the Cold War challenged their ability to work together.
Images: Top – Senator J. William Fulbright and President Lyndon B. Johnson examine Calder’s Whale II at the White House Festival of the Arts, 1965. Photo: Yoichi Okamoto; Bottom – Alexander Calder, Mankind Must Put an End to War or War Will Put an End to Mankind, 1975. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress, Washington, DC. Art © 2012 Calder Foundation, New York / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.