Graduate Seminar: the Cold War Contingent
This seminar is devoted to interrogating the Cold War image – painted, projected, planted, or proclaimed – in the art worlds spanning multiple ‘fronts’ of global conflict from the end of the Second World War to the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. The historical markers of this period include not only tense negotiations between hegemonic blocs and proxy wars, but also decolonization struggles dedicated to political, economic, and cultural liberation, which prompted representatives of the United States, the Soviet Union, China, France, East and West Germany, Italy, and the Non-aligned Movement (Yugoslavia, India, Indonesia, Egypt, Ghana, Cuba, and scores of other countries and groups) into elaborate plays for a share in Third World patronage. From this crucible emerged a new wave of art biennials, Communist youth rallies, exhibition and performance exchanges, and increasingly dense constellations of artists, cultural workers, public intellectuals, and covert security agents. For some time, scholars of visual culture who analyze these phenomena have highlighted the countervisualities of the decolonizing struggle, contending they should be understood as visualizations, i.e. as goals, strategies, and imagined forms of singularity and collectivity that are not realistic, but rather produce an extended sense of the real, the realistic, and realism(s). In this course, we aim to bring analyses of visuality and countervisuality into conversation with art history – particularly scholarship mobilizing notions of parafiction, performativity, and acting ‘as if.’ Our inquiry will proceed by attending to the extraordinary pressures exerted on the image by transnational networks of trade, exhibition, and activism, thereby exploring ways to write histories of images in global Cold War conditions that maintain the contingency of the real in representation, without demanding truth, transparent intention, or consensus. Case studies include the export of American Abex painting, décollage in France and Algeria, model homes in Iran, Socialist Realist painting (including a trip to the Wende Museum in L.A.), Third World biennials, the OSPAAAL, art commissions in Syria, and more. Readings will be drawn from the fields of art history, political science, visual culture studies, and critical theory.