The Role of Art in Cold War Diplomacy in Yugoslav – US Relations 1961-1966

  • Abstract:

    During the 1960s, culture was often (sometimes unwittingly, other times intentionally) infused with the politics of the Cold War. This paper will highlight the specific role of former Yugoslavia in America’s cultural Cold War programme and Yugoslavia’s frontier position between East and West in geographical, ideological and socio-political terms. America’s foreign and cultural policies will be correlated with Yugoslavia’s government active roles and strategies and its art world in international cultural relations. The analysis will start with the year 1961, when Yugoslavia adopted a new strategic position of “nonalignment”. In the same year, the US Information Agency organised the exhibition American Vanguard Painting upon the request of the Yugoslav government. The exhibition illustrates the importance of politics in the cultural relations between the US and former Yugoslavia. Changes in Yugoslav political agenda, particularly frequent re-positioning towards the US and USSR, were manifested at all levels, including Yugoslav President Tito’s shifting attitudes towards abstract art. I demonstrate how exhibitions were not just art events, but often political “minefields” for every party involved. The neutral position of “nonalignment” allowed Yugoslavia to promote dialogue between foreign states. In art, this was achieved through the organisation of transnational exhibitions, which drew artists, curators and visitors from Eastern and Western Europe, the US and the decolonised Third World. As a result, Yugoslavia became a “contact zone” where East and West (and South and North) could meet. This is illustrated with the example of the 5th International Graphic Art Biennale in Ljubljana. Finally, a discussion of the exhibition Yugoslavia: Contemporary Trends, the Younger Generation (1966) will “turn the tables” and reveal Yugoslavia’s official strategies in promoting Yugoslav art in America. The analysis will consider how art was used to construct a modern national identity for Yugoslavia abroad and to what extent this was successful.