Sculpture at Korea’s Secret Tunnel

Following a tip-off from a North Korean defector, on 17 October 1978 South Korea discovered the existence of what is now known as the Third Tunnel of Aggression. It is the closest to Seoul of four such tunnels, secret passageways linking the two territories that were chiselled out of bedrock to prepare for a surprise invasion from the north. There are believed to be up to 20 more still to be found.

It is estimated that the narrow 1.7km-long tunnel would enable over 30,000 North Korean soldiers per hour to make the journey south. Nowadays, there are preventative concrete barricades in place and the tunnel has instead become a popular tourist spot complete with gift shop.

At the mouth of the tunnel stands a statue with the title This One Earth (하나 되는 지구). It is one of a number of pro-unification artworks and sculptures found on both sides of the Korean Demilitarized Zone (DMZ), the heavily-guarded no man’s land that divides the countries. As with the Statue of Brothers at the War Memorial of Korea, the split earth indicates the sadness of a country torn in two. Here men, women and children on either side of the divide attempt to push the earth back together, in a symbol of peace and forgiveness.

Image: This One Earth, DMZ, South Korea.

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Recommended: International Spy Museum

When visiting the (American) nation’s capital, there’s a one stop shop to discover everything you never knew you wanted to know about espionage. Since 2002 the International Spy Museum in Washington, DC has been home to the largest collection of spycraft ever placed on public display.

Along winding corridors the museum takes a look at the long history of spying – Sun Tzu to Casanova, the Rosenbergs to cyberwarfare. The Cold War features prominently, including interviews with former KGB and CIA agents, interactive stories of daring missions, and ingenious top-secret gadgets such as a lipstick pistol, microdot cameras and a Bulgarian umbrella. Plus the Cold War takes central stage in two current exhibitions: Exquisitely Evil: 50 Years of Bond Villains and Argo Uncovered.

Plans are underway for the museum to move to larger premises, but for the forseeable future it remains at 800 F Street, NW in Washington, DC.

Recommended: Goldfinger’s House

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

The Graphic Art of CIA: Operation Ajax

In 1953 a Cold War spy mission, jointly staged by the CIA and MI6, would profoundly change the direction of global politics and help build the fragile world in which we live today. Between 15 and 19 August, American and British agents orchestrated the Iranian coup d’état, which overthrew the democratically-elected Prime Minister of Iran, Mohammad Mosaddegh.

Mossadegh’s attempts to nationalise the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company and retake control of the country’s oil reserves, seen by many Iranians as an exploitative hangover from British imperialism, made him powerful enemies. The coup – known by MI6 as ‘Operation Boot’ and to the CIA as ‘Operation Ajax’ (TPAJAX) – crushed Iran’s fledgling democracy. In its place the Shah was granted absolute rule of the country, with powerful backing from the United States, until the Iranian Revolution of 1979 created an Islamic republic. Only on the 60th anniversary of the coup, in August 2013, did the CIA publicly admit its involvement.

These dramatic events are the inspiration behind the interactive graphic novel CIA: Operation Ajax. This tale of oil and espionage interweaves authentic CIA documents with over 210 pages of art to produce an innovative Cold War spy thriller. A more in-depth review is provided by Longbox Graveyard.

Image: Still from CIA: Operation Ajax. Courtesy Cognito Comics.

The KGB Spy Who Became a New York Artist

Emil GoldfusIrregular working hours, frequent trips out of town, a fondness for radical politics… The more unconventional aspects of life as an artist were the reasons why it proved to be such an effective cover for one KGB spy.

A British national of Russian descent, Vilyam Genrikhovich Fisher (also known as Rudolf Ivanovich Abel) was recruited into the KGB during World War II and sent to the United States as an undercover agent in 1948. There he spent nine years undertaking missions across the country with the aim of smuggling atomic secrets to Russia. In 1953 Fisher arrived in Brooklyn under the alias Emil Goldfus and began posing as a struggling painter and photographer, while secretly leading a New York-based spy ring. With the help of a duped art student, Burton Silverman, the spy worked on his painting technique and built up a networks of artist friends who shared his taste for realism in the city of Abstract Expressionism.

Fisher was eventually discovered and arrested in 1957 when the FBI finally cracked the Hollow Nickel Case (the name in reference to the way by which information was passed between spies). On 15 November 1957 he was sentenced to serve 45 years in prison. However, Fisher ultimately got a lucky break when only four years into his sentence he was exchanged for Gary Powers, the pilot of the ill-fated U-2 spy plane which in 1960 was shot down in Soviet airspace during a reconnaissance mission.

The fascinating story of the spy-artist known as Emil Goldfus was recently retold by Silverman’s son: The Russian Spy Who Duped my Dad.

Emil Goldfus 2

Images (top to bottom): Emil Goldfus in the studio, 1957. Photo by Burton Silverman; Portrait of Emil Goldfus by Burton Silverman, 1958. Courtesy Silverman Studios Inc.

Recommended: Kiss Kiss Kill Kill

KKKK Film Poster 2A scantily-clad femme fatale, a pristinely-coiffed hero, and an array of imaginatively-evil baddies. Throw in some guns and gadgets and you have the perfect recipe for a spy thriller.

Kiss Kiss Kill Kill is a multidimensional project dedicated to preserving and sharing the graphic art and forgotten spy films of Cold War Europe. Amassed by creator and curator Richard Rhys Davies, the collection now runs to over 6,000 items, including original artwork, posters, lobby cards and stills.

From the formative 1950s through the golden age of the 1960s and into the nihilistic 1970s, the familiar iconography of the spy thriller is ever present. Yet although often comical and easily parodied, the phenomenon is nevertheless an accessible way to understand a complex political and cultural moment in world history, making Kiss Kiss Kill Kill an important resource.

KKKK HeaderWhile a touring exhibition of posters from the archive recently closed in Leeds, the exhibition catalogue contains reproductions of over 100 posters, digitally-restored to their former psychedelic glory. The collection is set to grow even larger, as efforts are made to track down obscure pieces from former Communist countries, South America and South-East Asia. Further exhibitions and publications are planned as new work is acquired, so keep an eye on the website for plenty more to come.

Image (top): Poster for Rapporto Fuller, base Stoccolma (Fuller Report, Base Stockholm), Italian, 1968, dir. Sergio Grieco.

On Her Majesty’s Secret Art Service

This year marks 60 years since the publication of Casino Royale by British author, Ian Fleming, and with it the first appearance in print of everyone’s favourite spy – Bond, James Bond.

Bond’s exotic world of suggestively-named femme fatales and inexplicable gadgets appeared to be a world away from the stuffy academia of art history. Until 1979. When Sir Anthony Blunt – Professor of History of Art at the Courtauld Institute in London and Surveyor of the Queen’s Pictures – was publicly exposed as a Soviet spy.

Anthony BluntBlunt was recruited by the Soviet Union in the 1930s, as part of the infamous Cambridge Five spy ring. Then during World War II he became a double agent when he joined MI5, the British Secret Service, carrying out several operations which would have passed muster with Bond himself.

Given that the story has ‘movie script’ written all over it, it’s no surprise that a number of films and TV series have dramatised these events. The most thrilling written account of Blunt’s many incarnations is Miranda Carter’s biography, Anthony Blunt: His Lives.

Image: Anthony Blunt with Queen Elizabeth II as Surveyor of the Queen’s Pictures