Parapolitics: Cultural Freedom and the Cold War

Lene Berg, Stalin by Picasso or Portrait of a Woman with Moustache, 2008. Façade-banner. Courtesy artist.

“They had stolen the great words,” former secret service agent Thomas Braden wrote in 1967 in an article titled “I’m glad the CIA is ‘immoral.’” Braden was retroactively defending a massive, near-global covert operation supporting the so-called “non-communist left” in the postwar era. This “freedom offensive” was orchestrated to derail further sympathies toward communist Russia among intellectuals. In the mimetic arms race of the Cold War, great words such as “freedom” and art and culture were to play a decisive role.

Among the activities highlighted by Braden was the Congress for Cultural Freedom (CCF), an organization devoted specifically to the promotion of the autonomy of artists and intellectuals. In 1960, the prominent ten-year anniversary conference was held at the Congress Hall, Berlin, today’s Haus der Kulturen der Welt. Through offices in up to 35 countries, the CCF subsidized countless cultural programs of the liberal left, from Latin America to Southeast Asia—developing a network of journals, conferences, and exhibitions that propagated modernism in literature, art, and music.
By 1967, it was revealed that the CCF was secretly bankrolled by America’s espionage arm, the Central Intelligence Agency.

The CIA scandal confirmed the lingering suspicion that had trailed the CCF from the days of its origin: not quite an autonomous entity, the organization had been enlisted in shoring up an anti-Communist consensus in the service of US hegemony during the Cultural Cold War. The disclosure destroyed the CCF’s reputation, exposing the ideological contradictions and moral dilemmas of advocating freedom and transparency by means that deprived themselves of democratic accountability.

Parapolitics: Cultural Freedom and the Cold War is devoted to the global dimension of cultural politics in the Cold War and specifically to the changing meaning assigned to modernist aesthetics. Thus, the interdependences between the historical processes immanent to the arts, ideological battles, and social and geopolitical developments mutually shed light on each other. Thus this exhibition sheds light on the tension between the struggle for autonomy, critical modes of engagement, and political instrumentalization in the arts. Parapolitics seeks to illuminate the ideological foundations as well as the lines of conflict of today’s global contemporary art.

The term "parapolitics" refers to the use of soft power in the Cold War. Employing the history of the Congress for Cultural Freedom as an optical device, the project brings Picasso’s famous dictum, encapsulated in the expression the "art is a lie that tells truth" into relation with the work of an intelligence agency whose "art lies in concealing the means by which it is achieved battle for Picasso's mind."

Parapolitics: Cultural Freedom and the Cold War brings together archival documents and artworks from the 1930s to the present day, that prefigure or reflect the ideological and aesthetic struggles arising from the Cultural Cold War. It features magazines, such as Der Monat (Germany), Encounter (UK), Sasanggye (South Korea), Quest (India), Africa South (South Africa), Black Orpheus (Nigeria), Transition (Uganda / Ghana), The New African (South Africa), Hiwar (Lebanon), and Mundo Nuevo (Latin America), which were either initiated or at times supported by the Congress for Cultural Freedom.

With works by Art & Language, Doug Ashford, Michael Baers, Antonina Baever, Alessandro Balteo-Yazbeck (with Media Farzin and Paolo Gasparini), Romare Bearden, Samuel Beckett, Lene Berg, Broomberg & Chanarin, Fernando Bryce, Daniel Buren, Luis Camnitzer, Alice Creischer, Didactic Exhibition, Liu Ding, Charles & Ray Eames, Miklós Erdély, Peter Friedl, Liam Gillick, Sheela Gowda, Philip Guston, Gruppe Gummi K, Max de Haas, Chia-Wei Hsu, Iman Issa, Voluspa Jarpa, David Lamelas, Norman Lewis, İlhan Mimaroğlu, Moiseyev Dance Company, Museum of American Art in Berlin, Irving Norman, Guillermo Nuñez, Branwen Okpako, Boris Ondreička, Nam June Paik, Décio Pignatari, Howardena Pindell, Sigmar Polke, Rebecca H. Quaytman, Walid Raad, Steve Reich, Ad Reinhardt, Gerhard Richter, Faith Ringgold, Norman Rockwell, Peter Roehr, Martha Rosler, Charles Shaw, Yashas Shetty, Francis Newton Souza, Frank Stella, The Otolith Group, Endre Tót, Suzanne Treister, Twins Seven-Seven, Josip Vaništa, Wolf Vostell, Susanne Wenger, and many more.

Parapolitics: Cultural Freedom and the Cold War is part of Kanon-Fragen, which is supported by the Federal Government Commissioner for Culture and the Media due to a ruling of the German Bundestag. Haus der Kulturen der Welt is supported by the Federal Government Commissioner for Culture and the Media as well as by the Federal Foreign Office.

Parapolitics: Cultural Freedom and the Cold War
November 3, 2017–January 8, 2018

Opening: November 2, 7pm 
Accompanying program: December 15–16

Haus der Kulturen der Welt (HKW) 
John-Foster-Dulles-Allee 10
10557 Berlin
Hours: Wednesday–Monday 11am–7pm

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