For decades in art circles it was either a rumour or a joke, but now it is confirmed as a fact. The Central Intelligence Agency used American modern art - including the works of such artists as Jackson Pollock, Robert Motherwell, Willem de Kooning and Mark Rothko - as a weapon in the Cold War. In the manner of a Renaissance prince - except that it acted secretly - the CIA fostered and promoted American Abstract Expressionist painting around the world for more than 20 years.
Richard: I noticed in the show at MoMA that in the knife piece—it’s Rhythm 10, I think—the documentation is just a scratched-out print. Did you realize the importance of documentation from the beginning? There were early pieces that weren’t documented. In the beginning, when we started doing this conceptual and performance work, the idea was that we should not document at all—that the performance is the unique thing, and the only thing that stays is the memory, and nothing else. I was the one who started documenting, and many of my colleagues didn’t. My mother was an art historian and director of the Museum of the Revolution in Belgrade. She was a complete maniac. She was documenting everything. And I think I got a genetic thing from her. So every letter I got—I never threw it away. Every little piece of paper I kept and still do now. As for the scratches in that piece—I was living in a car. I was nowhere. I was just a nomad. So the thing was scratched.
So there was a US law about bird droppings that somehow proves important for thinking about the law of sovereignty?
Indeed. The Guano Islands Act of 1856 arguably laid the legal groundwork for American imperialism.
The latest issue of Cabinet is about islands. This interview, online here, with Christina Duffy Burnett, online here, is about laws as they pertain to islands and how the U.S. managed to “appertain” all its “incorporated” and “unincorporated” island territories over the years. It is also about the ridiculous legalese of imperialism, an island called Palmyra, and guano. Fascinating!