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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Worlds on view : visual art exhibitions and state identity in the late Cold War

  • Author(s): Holland, Nicole Murphy
  • et al.

In this dissertation I argue that strategies of Cold War (1945-1991) cultural diplomacy engaged by the U.S. and the U.S.S.R., specifically visual art exhibitions, are a logical outgrowth of the practices of world's fairs and national exhibitions developed during the nineteenth- century. I contend that the quality of diplomatic-style neutrality characteristic of these earlier models compelled their adoption in a more perilous era. I examine U.S. and Russian/Soviet exhibitions at selected moments of political, cultural, or socioeconomic transformation within a genealogy of exhibition functionality that I construct from its origin in the medieval world, its proliferation in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, and its instrumentalization during the Cold War. I focus on one case study from the late Cold War, the exhibition 10 + 10 : Contemporary Soviet and American Painters (1989- 90), a unique project jointly organized by U.S.S.R. and U.S. officials and curators, and circulated in both countries. In all these examples, I demonstrate the creation of a temporary space in which information was presented appositionally, with the possibility, but not the guarantee, nor even the expectation, of dialogue or political transaction, providing, in the late Cold War, a neutral space for the advancement of geopolitical awareness and potential understanding. At the end, my research reveals that, during the Cold War, visual art exhibitions, like other cultural interventions including music, dance and theater, served as instruments of cultural diplomacy, providing neutral zones where assertions of national identity, fixed or changing, circulated freely, without agency or conclusions. My research is based on interviews with actors in late Cold War cultural diplomacy, including artists, art critics, diplomats, and government officials

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