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Cold War Art

Brenda Moore-McCann

The recent publication of a book on the Rosc Exhibitions by Peter Shortt, The Poetry of Vision: The Rosc Exhibitions 1967-1988 (Irish Academic Press, 2016), is a welcome contribution to Irish art historical scholarship. This group of recurring exhibitions (approximately every four years) from 1967 until 1988 is of immense importance to an understanding of the evolution of Irish art from a predominantly nationalist agenda, inaugurated by the Irish Free State in 1922, to a more internationalist one by 1988 at their end. The Rosc exhibitions, which showed international art on an unprecedented scale to the Irish public, contributed significantly to that change. If they had done nothing else, this alone makes them one of the most important artistic events of twentieth century Ireland.

As outlined in Peter Shortt’s book, over the twenty-one years of Rosc, Ireland moved from being a relatively insular place politically and economically to become a more open and secular society. This transition forms part of the analysis in chapters on the impact of each Rosc on the artistic, social and cultural life of the country. The controversial exclusion of Irish art from the first two exhibitions in 1967 and 1971, together with international shifts in critical thinking and art practice and their influence on Irish art are integrated into the overall narrative. Rosc took place against the backdrop of the “Troubles” in Northern Ireland but also during the period of the Cold War. Beyond a brief allusion to the Cold War, this fascinating aspect of the first Rosc exhibition in 1967 is not developed further in the book.

A small number of historians, most notably Bernadette Whelan in her comprehensive book Ireland and the Marshall Plan 1947-57 (2000), have begun to address the influence of the European Recovery Program (ERP), more commonly called the Marshall Plan, on Ireland’s economic development, the ending of wartime isolation and a gradual opening up of foreign policy. Apart from research carried out by art critic Ciarán Bennett, Irish art history has not looked at the earliest Rosc exhibition in the context of the Cold War. This essay sets out to address this by looking at what has been omitted from existing discourse and remained hidden, either consciously or unconsciously.

The Cultural Cold War is not commonly perceived to have had any significant role in Ireland. Yet, it was evident through various organisations set up in the immediate aftermath of World War II, a time that coincided with the founding of the Marshall Plan (1947) and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) (1947). The Cultural Cold War, a term first coined by Christopher Lasch in The Agony of the American Left: One Hundred Years of Radicalism (1969) extended from 1947 to c  1991. It was unique in that war was primarily an ideological rather than a military conflict involving the different political systems of the United States, its allies in Western Europe and the Soviet Union. What was at stake was a drive to combat communism and Soviet expansion, alongside rebuilding European democracies in line with the growing hegemony of the postwar United States. Europe would be remade in America’s likeness.

The Cultural Cold War was a war conducted through intellectual channels rather than by soldiers and guns. Many of America’s and Europe’s intellectuals were drawn to communism’s state support for culture, compared with the complete absence of such support in the capitalist democracy of the United States. Indeed state support for the arts in America did not emerge until two decades into the Cold War period when the National Endowment of the Arts (NEA) was inaugurated by President Lyndon Johnson in 1965. Postwar Soviet propaganda was extremely sophisticated, often portraying the United States as having developed nothing beyond bubble gum and Hollywood. Recognition in America of the need to create its own propaganda machinery led to a cultural crusade, the Cultural Cold War, which aimed to dispel such characterisations but more importantly to sway intellectuals towards the “American way” of democratic freedom for the arts.

Although the first Rosc exhibition did not take place until 1967, Cold War organisations set up in Ireland from the late 1940s were influential in promoting American interests over ensuing decades. Ireland became part of the crusade when the Marshall Plan was extended to it from 1947 until 1952. In spite of the rancour felt in both Britain and the US at Ireland’s neutrality during the war, the country was included as it was perceived to be more in sympathy with the principles of democratic capitalism than communism. Recent historiography and the release of formerly secret documents has led historians to conclude that the Marshall Plan was used, in part, for covert operations through a forerunner of the CIA. The CIA had come to the conclusion that Ireland did not pose a serious communist threat because its politics were predominantly nationalistic and Catholic and it had only a small communist party. Nonetheless, its strategic importance geographically made Irish membership of the Marshall Plan necessary to US, British and Western European defence policies.

From its inception, the Marshall Plan was as much an ideological tool of US foreign policy as an economic one controlled through the Economic Cooperation Administration (ECA). Propaganda coded as “information”, through thousands of press releases, publications, posters, photographs, exhibitions (author’s italics), radio programmes and documentary films, was central to Marshall Plan activities. Unlike other countries in the European Recovery Plan, Ireland did not have an ECA information division, as it was not deemed, as noted above, to be a communist risk. With the outbreak of the Korean War in 1950 however, there was a change of emphasis, from ECA insistence on publicity about American generosity through the Marshall Plan, to the requirement to become part of a collective defence group. Ireland’s refusal to join the North Alliance Treaty Organisation (NATO), due to its position on neutrality and partition, led to the cessation of Marshall Plan funding in 1952. Nevertheless propaganda was continued by the United States Information Service Office (USIS) for another few years.

On November 20th, 1950 USIS had been opened at 4, College Green, Dublin by the American ambassador, George A Garrett. He denied that the service, which would provide information, research facilities, a reading room and the free lending of eight hundred books, as well as films, was a tool for propaganda. Rather, he stated, it and others of its kind around the world were designed to increase understanding of the United States and correct erroneous perceptions. Three years later in 1953, at the dedication of the new library and reading room at 13, Fleet Street, Dublin, the ambassador, William H Taft III, reiterated that the aim of USIS was to present a true picture of the United States. Some might think, he stated, that while in America he had only listened to the juke-box, jitterbugged and worn loud ties. As reported in The Irish Times, November 16th, 1953, he continued: “It is a good thing to promote truth rather than propaganda.” As the US’s commitment to spend money on information grew worldwide, the need for such a service was perceived as no longer necessary and the Dublin USIS closed in 1956. Three hundred and twenty-five films were given to the National Film Institute of Ireland and Macra na Feirme, and five thousand books were distributed to universities and other libraries.

However, other organisations that aimed to strengthen Irish-US relations were launched in the early 1960s, namely, the American-Irish Foundation for cultural exchange and the Ireland-US Council to promote business. The bilateral relationship between the two countries was given a significant boost with the arrival of John F Kennedy in the White House and his subsequent visit to Ireland in 1963. In some senses the Ireland-US Council can be seen as an extension of USIS as the council hosts events, a variety of scholarships and intern programmes, seminars and occasional publishing projects. The council was founded and led by the American envoy to Ireland, John D Moore (1931-2008). A lawyer and graduate of Yale University, Moore was a former CIA agent and member of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta (SMOM) (moversandshakersofthesmom.blogspot.ie/2008/09/.html) He was appointed ambassador to Ireland by President Nixon in 1969, a post he held until 1975. He negotiated the Shannon “stopover” for transatlantic aviation to and from Ireland, which more recently has been linked with alleged CIA rendition flights. He was on the board of the chemicals firm WR Grace & Company from 1941 to 1982. Almost certainly through his strong business and political ties in Ireland, Moore was responsible for the sponsorship of the first Rosc exhibition in 1967 by WR Grace & Company.

In the context of the Cultural Cold War, Rosc and Ireland, WR Grace & Company has an interesting history. It is a specialty chemicals and materials company founded in 1854 in Peru by Irish Famine emigrant William Russell Grace (1832-1904), who became the first Catholic mayor of New York. Having set up in New York in 1865, at the height of the company’s business it operated in forty countries employing 6,700 people. J Peter Grace (1913-95) was director of the company from 1945 until 1992. A graduate of Yale University like Moore, and also a devout Catholic, he was head of the American branch of the SMOM. The SMOM is a Christian organisation dating back to the time of the Crusades. Its rituals require obedience to the order and ultimately to the pope. It has played a role historically against Islam, Protestant “heresy” and the Soviet “evil empire”. It has its own territory in Rome, Italy, with diplomatic immunity, its own stamps, passport and flag. It has one hundred and twenty-five thousand members in 120 countries within banking, politics, the Catholic Church and the CIA. It drew closer to national Republican politics under the “forceful leadership of Peter Grace” as noted by Dr Carl Edwin Lindgren in “Some Notes about the Sovereign Military Order of Malta in the United States” (users.panola.com/AAGHS/ARTICLES/MALTA.html). President Ronald Reagan formally recognised the order by attending its annual dinner in 1989. The company is also alleged to have had a long involvement with CIA-backed projects such as Radio Liberty and Radio Free Europe.

The thesis of this essay is that the key figure linking the first Rosc to the Cultural Cold War was the American curator James Johnson Sweeney (1900-86). Descended from a prominent Donegal family who had emigrated to America, Johnson Sweeney was a key figure in the Cultural Cold War as a promoter of anti-communism, Modernism and the ideology of individualism. He was a frequent visitor to his holiday home in the west of Ireland and had many contacts among the art community, including the Modernist architect Michael Scott (1905-89). In the early 1960s, Scott, frustrated at the continuing lack of a modern or contemporary museum, proposed the idea of an international exhibition in Ireland to his friend Johnson Sweeney, who responded enthusiastically. Thus began the most remarkable series of international exhibitions in the history of Irish twentieth century art.

Johnson Sweeny was a formidable figure on the international cultural stage. At the time of the first Rosc in 1967, he was director of the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Texas (1961-68), having previously served as director of the Guggenheim Museum, New York (1952-59) and director of painting and sculpture at the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) (1945–46). He had written books on Joan Miró, Alexander Calder, Henry Moore, Alberto Burri and on Celtic and African art. He was an important transitional figure within Modernism, moving from the avant-garde environment of Paris in the 1920s, where he knew James Joyce, to New York in the 1930s. His considerable achievements as a curator at MOMA and elsewhere were preceded by his literary roles as a critic, editor and poet, with work appearing in the Irish Statesmantransition and Poetry. In addition to art reviews for the New York Times, Johnson Sweeney was also art critic for the New Republic (1935), associate editor of the avant-garde art and literary review transition (1935–38), and advisory editor of Partisan Review (1948). This radically left magazine, founded in 1926 in New York, broke with its ideological stance in 1936 to become openly anti-Stalinist from 1937. Unable to sustain its earlier radicalism, writers and critics of the magazine despaired of politics and confined themselves to cultural criticism. This, as Serge Guilbaut outlined in How America Stole the Idea of Modernist Art: Abstract Expressionism, Freedom, and the Cold War (1983), coincided with the time Johnson Sweeney took over as editor with Allan Dowling, Sidney Hook, James Burnham and Lionel Trilling. He was also vice-president (1948-57) and president (1957-63) of the International Association of Art Critics (AICA). AICA was significant within the contexts of Modernism and the Cultural Cold War. It was supported financially, in an unofficial capacity, by newly created international bodies such as UNESCO (1945), and the United Nations (1945), as well as by the US State Department.

The Cultural Cold War linked art to politics in an unprecedented way, in which Soviet repression and censorship of artists was contrasted with the promotion, patronage and “freedom” of artists in America. Individualism linked to the depoliticisation of the intellectual left in America became a key component of both national politics and art in postwar America. However, politics was complicated by the virulent anti-communism of Senator Joseph McCarthy (1908-57) which led to the persecution of many innocent people (McCarthyism). In a similar vein, Congressmen George Dandero (1883-1968) and Fred Busbey (1895-1966) led the charge that modern art was a communist plot. In this extraordinary moment in American history, with such high anti-communist opinion in the Senate and Congress, Giles Scott-Smith recounts in The Politics of Apolitical Culture: The Congress for Cultural Freedom, the CIA and post war American hegemony (2002) that a new breed of CIA officials drawn from Ivy League, liberal backgrounds sought an alliance with anti-communist intellectuals through the Congress for Cultural Freedom (CCF). Many had been former communist sympathisers, a fact that had to be hidden from Senator McCarthy and others.

The CCF was founded in Berlin in 1950. It aimed to merge American and European non-communist intellectuals into a single voice. Apart from his glittering career as curator and critic, Johnson Sweeney was a member of the American branch of the Congress for Cultural Freedom (ACCF). In the 1940s many American intellectuals, including Johnson Sweeney and Alfred Barr (1902-81), director from 1943 of the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA), felt that the preservation of the West and Western culture itself was at stake in the face of the communist threat. The American branch (ACCF) of the CCF was founded by Melvin Lasky, with Michael Josselson as director, in 1953. It consisted, in Lasch’s words, of a coalition of “moderate liberals and reactionaries (both groups including a large number of ex-communists) held together by their mutual obsession with the communist conspiracy”. The influential Modernist critic Clement Greenberg (1909–94) and artists like Robert Motherwell, William Baziotes, Alexander Calder and Jackson Pollock were also members of the ACCF. At its peak, Frances Stonor Saunders states in The Cultural Cold War: The C.I.A. and the World of Arts and Letters (1999), the CCF had offices in thirty five countries, employed dozens of people, published over twenty prestigious cultural magazines, held art exhibitions, international conferences and broadcast on radio stations including Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty.

The art world changed dramatically after the Second World War as the centre moved from Europe to America and specifically, from Paris to New York. The crusade in the United States to persuade communist sympathisers in Europe to look for an alternative to communism became identified with the effort to create a new Modernist avant-garde in New York from the late 1940s. Many writers like Guilbaut over the last twenty-five years have argued that Abstract Expressionism became the main weapon of the American cultural offensive against Soviet art’s social realism. Yet historian David Caute disputes this, arguing in The Dancer Defects: The Struggle for Cultural Supremacy during the Cold War (2003) that the impression arose more from the critical writings of Barr, Greenberg and Harold Rosenberg, the principle promoters of Abstract Expressionism between 1945 and 1960, than from what was actually exported and exhibited abroad. This may have been true in the late 1940s and early 1950s when McCarthyism restricted the activities of the ACCF. Museums and promoters of Abstract Expressionism, in particular the MOMA, became less inhibited when McCarthy was silenced in the mid-1950s. Caute observes that “if Clement Greenberg and Harold Rosenberg provided the creed and the cult, the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) provided the cathedral and the liturgy”.

The MOMA, created in 1929 by the Rockerfeller dynasty, took over the promotion of Modern art from the State due to McCarthyism, which would have considered former communists in the CCF as suspect. Abroad, America was held in such low esteem by European intellectuals at the time that many would have ignored the CCF if they knew of government involvement. These circumstances led to the clandestine involvement of the CIA with the CCF, its affiliates and its magazine Encounter, all of whom were on its payroll covertly from 1953 until 1966.

Johnson Sweeney’s name can be added to the critics cited above in the promotion of Modernism and Abstract Expressionism. He was the first writer to analyse the expressionist art of Jackson Pollock in his first show at Peggy Guggenheim’s “Art of This Century Gallery” in New York in 1943. Noting in his catalogue essay that Pollock’s talent was volcanic, unpredictable and undisciplined, he recommended that other artists should work from such inner compulsion. Greenberg agreed, declaring Pollock in 1945 to be “the strongest painter of his generation and perhaps the greatest one to appear since Miró” (Guilbaut). By 1947 Greenberg, as quoted in Guilbaut, was confident enough to pronounce: “Much to our surprise, the main promises of Western art have at last migrated to the United States, along with the center of gravity of industrial and political power.”

Abstraction was thus seen as a language American artists could use that was, apparently, free from ideological politics. Yet the US itself had an ideological agenda that used covert CIA funding to mount exhibitions with an opposing ideological thrust from communism. Cultural magazines published in Europe mushroomed with CIA funding to the CCF. Therefore, with governmental and institutional support through the MOMA, the new liberal ideology of politics in America became fused with avant-garde abstract art and specifically around the work of Jackson Pollock. His work, to critics like Johnson Sweeney and Greenberg, embraced such liberal core values as individual freedom and a willingness to take risks for creativity. They symbolised the difference between American freedom for the artist and Soviet totalitarian repression. The overall effect of such ideas on American art in the postwar period were succinctly summarised by Guilbaut in 1983: “ … what had been characteristically American now became representative of ‘Western culture’ as a whole … American art was transformed from regional to international and then to universal art.”

In 1952 the CFF and the MOMA sponsored a major festival in Paris, “Masterpieces of the Twentieth Century”. The curator was Johnson Sweeney, who remained on the MOMA advisory board although he had moved on to become director of the Guggenheim that same year. The press release on April 18th (ACCH/NYU archives) indicates the depth of feeling at the time: “On display will be masterpieces that could not have been created nor whose exhibition would be allowed by such totalitarian regimes as Nazi Germany or present-day Soviet Russia and her satellites.” This kind of rhetoric was common among members of the ACCF at the time. Yet in spite of the ACCF’s anti-communist stance, Johnson Sweeney had to defend allegations that he had communist sympathies at the time of his appointment as director to the Museum of Fine Arts of Houston (MFAH) in 1961. In a letter to the president of the MFAH, he strenuously denied the accusation on the basis that he had been a practising Catholic all his life and that he had been director of the Congress for Cultural Freedom Exhibition at the Musée d’Art Moderne in Paris and the Tate Gallery in 1952: “[The exhibition was] a forthright gesture against the Communist attitude towards painting and sculpture. As you are aware, the type of contemporary painting and sculpture, which my name and writings are most commonly associated with, is diametrically opposed to that approved and encouraged by the Soviet[s] and by Marxists throughout the world.”

The 1952 exhibition of 120 works, however, was not dominated by Abstract Expressionists, but by European artists including Gauguin, Kandinsky, Picasso, Van Gogh, Matisse, Cézanne, Seurat and Chagall. Indeed, for the domestic political reasons already outlined, it was not until the late 1950s that Abstract Expressionism made the international breakthrough sought by Johnson Sweeney, Greenberg and others. It was their efforts, assisted by the MOMA and the CIA, that heralded the hegemony of American art worldwide.

Links between the MOMA and the CIA have been strenuously denied. Yet Eve Cockcroft pointed out in an article in Artforum in 1974: “In terms of cultural propaganda, the functions of both the CIA cultural apparatus and MOMA’s international programmes were similar and, in fact, mutually supportive.” This seems to be borne out, as described by Stonor Saunders. ACCF members, like Johnson Sweeney, were on the MOMA advisory board and trustees and senior staff often worked with the Office for Strategic Services (OSS) and its successor, the CIA. Johnson Sweeney had become director of painting and sculpture at MOMA (1945-6); Tom Braden, executive secretary of MOMA (1947-49) then joined the CIA (1950-54); Rene d’Harncourt, who worked in the arts section of Nelson Rockefeller’s office of Coordinator of Inter-American Affairs (CIAA), a wartime intelligence operation in Latin America, became director of MOMA in 1949; William Burden, president of the Farfield Foundation, funded by the CIA, became president of the MOMA in 1956 while many trustees of the MOMA were also trustees of the Farfield Foundation.

The CIA-funded Encounter was, according to DH Akenson in Conor: A Biography of Conor Cruise O’Brien (1994), an “establishment-liberal” publication that was “mildly left, often iconoclastic trendy, highly readable”. It was London-based, although most of the leading positions were held by New York intellectuals Melvin Lasky, Sidney Hook, Arthur J Schlesinger Jr, and John Kenneth Galbraith. Lasky had earlier founded Der Monat in 1948, a magazine designed to woo German intellectuals away from communism. The director of the CCF, Michael Josselson, was a former officer in the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), the forerunner to the CIA, founded in 1947. The articles published in Encounter largely upheld the US government’s view of communism as a great moral evil and a threat to the “free world”.

The connection between Encounter and the CIA was initially suggested by Irish diplomat and academic Conor Cruise O’Brien in an article published in the New Statesman in 1963. This was vehemently denied by the editors Stephen Spender, Melvin Lasky and Irving Kristol, until the disclosure by CIA agent Tom Braden that one of the editors worked for the CIA. The connection between the CIA, the CCF and Encounter became international news in the April 27th, 1966 edition of the New York Times, followed in March 1967 by the publication by Ramparts magazine of revelations of “C.I.A. penetration and subsidization of a whole variety of American groups”(Akenson).

As the impact of these revelations was unfolding internationally, the first Rosc exhibition took place in Dublin’s Royal Dublin Society in the autumn of the same year, 1967. The origin of the exhibitions lay with the increasing frustration felt among a small modernising group in Ireland, led by Michael Scott, at the lack of a dedicated museum of modern/contemporary art to show up-to-date international art to the Irish public, and at the opportunities missed by the many artists who had not had the opportunity to travel abroad. Johnson Sweeney’s international prestige as an art professional had a significant bearing on the concept behind the exhibitions as well as their practical realisation. Indeed it is doubtful if they could have happened without his support and commitment.

The decade of the 1960s in Ireland was one of profound change, economically, socially and culturally, that would have a bearing on the twenty-one years of the Rosc exhibitions. External influences began to flow in with the opening of the television station, Radio Teilefís Éireann (RTÉ) in 1961. Under the leadership of Seán Lemass (taoiseach 1959-66), this was the period of the first economic boom in which, for the first time in over a century, the population grew and emigration fell. It was also a time in which the influence of the Catholic church was beginning to wane as a more independent-minded, educated populace emerged. The censorship of books from 1929 continued until 1967 when five thousand “indecent” books were released. The fiftieth anniversary of the 1916 Rising against British colonial rule in 1966 gave rise to a revival of nationalist sentiment in the Republic, marked by the blowing up of one of the country’s leading landmarks, Nelson’s Pillar in O’Connell Street, Dublin, by the IRA in the same year. This background and the drive for social change formed contexts for the Rosc exhibitions, together with the persistent call for over half a century for the modernisation of art practice in Ireland. The relative isolation of the country during the war years and its gradual awakening in the 1960s exacerbated pleas for a greater connection to international art. Rosc was the catalyst.

The Irish word “Rosc”, generally translated as “poetry of vision”, was chosen as the name to express the Modernist ideals of an exhibition. Controversially, Irish artists were excluded from the first two exhibitions in 1967 and 1971. Although small in comparison with other contemporary international events such as the Venice Biennale and Documenta, the Rosc exhibitions became the first large-scale exhibitions in Ireland. An unusual feature of Rosc in international terms was that each exhibited a parallel ancient exhibition, such as Celtic art in Rosc 1967. For a short few years at least, they placed Dublin at the centre of the international art world. The structure, design and thinking behind the first two Roscs undoubtedly rested with Johnson Sweeney, a committed Modernist and anti-communist of the Cold War.

The first Rosc exhibition in 1967 is an example of Modernist aesthetic ideas prevalent internationally from the 1940s up to the late 1960s and early 1970s. Departing from the social utopianism of the European Modernists, American Modernists forged a union between abstraction and expressionism to promote the self through myth, transcendence and the unconscious. The museum became the secular temple for this art. In this view, “art”, as pungently promulgated by Greenberg, “existed for art’s sake” to the exclusion of politics and quotidian life. Johnson Sweeney was also a protagonist of such mystical beliefs. Yet their approach was not unique, being shared by colleagues at the MOMA including Barr and William C Seitz. For Johnson Sweeney, as recounted in Marcia Brennan’s book Curating Consciousness: Mysticism and the Modern Museum (2010), the museum’s “basic purpose should be to stimulate the aesthetic responses of its public to a richer, spiritual life, to a fuller enjoyment of the spiritual over the material, of relationships rather than things”. The radical design of the first Rosc, with the walls and ceiling of the industrial hall draped in white muslin, was very much in keeping with the philosophy of a secular temple. Central to the concept was that art was a spiritual entity without any interference from economic, social or political reality. This was the Modernist “white cube” (a term coined by Irish artist and critic Brian O’Doherty).

The vast majority of the 150 artworks, by almost exclusively male artists, represented a variety of styles that included Abstract Expressionism, Hard Edge Abstraction, Pop, Op and Minimalism. The artists were from Europe, the United States, Japan, China, Mexico and South America. Paintings by Europeans Victor Pasmore, Asger Jorn, Hans Hartung, Lucio Fontana, Victor Vasarely and Antonio Tapiés hung beside Americans Robert Indiana, Barnett Newman and Roy Lichtenstein as well as European artists of an older generation like Pablo Picasso, Joan Miró, Ben Nicholson, and Pierre Soulages.

Far from showing international current work as promised, the 1967 Rosc exhibited predominantly art that had already made a breakthrough internationally for ten or more years. Alberto Burri’s Abstract Expressionist work, called Informel in Europe, was an example. Sweeney had written the first monograph on Burri in 1955, whose work he interpreted in metaphysical terms. John Latham’s Soft Skoob (1966) was one of the few works to represent the emerging global movement of Conceptualism during the 1960s. However it is noteworthy that other proto-Conceptualists active since the 1950s like Yves Klein (1928–62), Piero Manzoni (1933–63) and Joseph Beuys (1921–86) did not feature in this Rosc. Although the early deaths of Manzoni and Klein may have retarded knowledge of their work, it is more likely that the challenges to the dominance of Abstract Expressionism inherent in their work did not find favour with the jurors. This may also have been the case for the exclusion of Fluxus artists who were working outside the museum with Happenings and other non-art activities from the mid-1950s.

In conclusion, the issues described above have been laid out as clearly as possible as they seem to raise the suspicion that the first Rosc was funded, if not completely, then in part by the CIA, which to date cannot be verified since CIA files are unavailable. Yet the links between Johnson Sweeney, the ACCF and the promotion of the American Modernist aesthetic that dominated Rosc, seem to point, at least circumstantially, to such a conclusion. However, it should be reemphasised that CIA involvement was part of an ideological war that resulted from the perceived threats to western autonomy and culture after World War II that included communist domination and nuclear war.

The CCF dissolved sometime in the late 1960s following the revelations of its links to the CIA. However the planning for Rosc occurred from the early 1960s. Whether Scott or any other local organisers were aware of the links to the CIA and the CCF, or the clandestine cultural agenda of the American government through the CCF, is difficult to say. Whatever they knew, it is important to relate the way in which Ireland, and Rosc 1967, became part of a global strategy that sought to assert American hegemony not only politically and militarily, but also culturally. Today, it is clear that the crusade was a success. This essay has attempted to engage with the complexities of the period and to re-establish the often difficult relationship between art and politics which Modernist art history and criticism sought to eliminate. Brian O’Doherty’s critique of the “white cube” in Inside the White Cube: The Ideology of the Gallery Space (1976) helped shift critical thought away from Modernism towards the Postmodernism of today.

I am grateful to Ciaran Bennet for the reference to the James Johnson Sweeney files at Rennes and for the quotation from Johnson Sweeney’s letter to the president of the Museum of Fine Arts of Houston.


Brenda Moore-McCann is a medical doctor, art historian and writer and Adjunct Assistant Professor  at Trinity College Dublin. She is the author of “The Rosc Exhibitions”, Art and Architecture in Ireland, Royal Irish Academy & Yale University Press, Volume V, pp. 419-424.



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