Art At Noon

Cold War Modernism

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General Public
Lori Waselchuk
black and white photo of Gen. Lemuel Mathewson on left side of the frame, his left hand pensively placed on his chin, looking at "Bather" by Milton Avery, Berlin, 1951

In the early Cold War, U.S. diplomats, artists, writers, publishers, curators, and even businesspeople entered into an unprecedented collaboration: they used art and literature to convince skeptical European audiences that American culture was more than chewing gum and cowboy movies. The art and literature they used, though, was modernist, which American audiences had long viewed as suspicious, foreign, and politically dangerous. Through their campaign, this public-private partnership reframed radical modernist art as “Cold War modernism,” as both the product and the highest expression of the West's freedom and individualism. In the 1950s and 1960s, John Rhoden joined this campaign, traveling to nations in Asia, Africa, and behind the Iron Curtain to showcase the freedoms of innovation and opportunity that his work, and his own life, embodied.  

Greg Barnhisel is Professor of English at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, PA, and the author of James Laughlin, New Directions, and the Remaking of Ezra Pound (2005) and Cold War Modernists: Art, Literature, and American Cultural Diplomacy (2015) and editor of the scholarly journal Book History. He is the recipient of grants and fellowships from the National Endowment for the Humanities, Yale University, the Houghton Library, and the Harry Ransom Center. His biography of the literary figure and spy Norman Holmes Pearson will be published by the University of Chicago Press in fall 2024. 

The Art At Noon lectures are supported by the Behrend Family in memory of Rose Susan Hirschhorn Behrend, a former docent at the Academy and great supporter of its education programs.  

Image: Gen. Lemuel Mathewson looking at "Bather" by Milton Avery, Berlin, 1951.