press release

“They had stolen the great words,” a former secret service agent wrote in 1967 in an article titled “I’m glad the CIA is ‘immoral’.” He was defending a near-global covert operation supporting the Non-Communist Left during the Cold War. This “freedom offensive” was orchestrated to derail sympathies toward Russia among intellectuals. The cultural Cold War was a struggle over 'great words' and their meaning, with the aim of delegitimizing the other side and controlling the semantic field. In this mimetic arms race, cultural diplomacy was to play a decisive role.

Among the activities highlighted in the article was the Congress for Cultural Freedom (CCF), an organization specifically devoted to the “promotion of the autonomy of artists and intellectuals.” The CCF was founded by a group of writers driven to consolidate an anti-totalitarian intellectual community and it involved many of the New York Intellectuals. The CCF’s inaugural conference opened in June 1950. In 1960, the prominent ten-year anniversary conference was held at the Congress Hall in Berlin, today’s Haus der Kulturen der Welt. Through offices in 35 countries, the CCF subsidized countless cultural programs, from Latin America to Africa and Southeast Asia—developing a network of journals, conferences, and exhibitions that promoted the “universal language of modernism.”

The term "parapolitics" refers to the use of soft power in the Cold War, encapsulated in the expression the "battle for Picasso's mind." The activities of the CCF contributed to the resignification of modernism as a way of disseminating a “politics of apolitical culture.” The exhibition is built around the ideological contradictions of this resignification and the moral ambiguities of celebrating cultural freedom and transparency by means that are themselves outside of democratic accountability. The project revolves around the use of art in shoring up an anti-communist consensus, and the strategies of artistic autonomy within this parapolitical choreography.

The exhibition features numerous documents and archival material, including the journals and magazines 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 temporarily supported by the Congress for Cultural Freedom and significantly influenced public opinion in the decades following the Second World War.

Parapolitics brings together artworks from the 1930s to the present by artists that prefigure and reflect the ideological and formal struggles arising from the cultural Cold War, but also works by contemporary artists critically reassessing the normalized narratives of modernism.

With works by Art & Language, Doug Ashford, Michael Baers, Antonina Baever, Alessandro Balteo-Yazbeck (in collaboration with Media Farzin and Paolo Gasparini), Robert Barry, Romare Bearden, Samuel Beckett, Lene Berg, Broomberg and Chanarin, Fernando Bryce, Daniel Buren, Luis Camnitzer, Alice Creischer, Didactic Exhibition, Liu Ding, Charles and Ray Eames, Miklos Erdély, Peter Friedl, Sheela Gowda, Philip Guston, Gruppe Gummi K, Max de Haas, Chia Wei Hsu, Iman Issa, Voluspa Jarpa, David Lamelas, Jacob Lawrence, Norman Lewis, İlhan Mimaroğlu, Moiseyev Dance Company, Museum of American Art in Berlin, Solomon Nikritin, Irving Norman, Guillermo Nuñez, Branwen Okpako, Boris Ondreička, Nam June Paik, Décio Pignatari, Howardena Pindel, 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, andSusanne Wenger

Curated by Anselm Franke, Nida Ghouse, Paz Guevara, and Antonia Majaca.

Parapolitics: Cultural Freedom and the Cold War is part of Kanon-Fragen. Kanon-Fragen 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.